The freestanding basketball hoop is an icon of suburbia, as generations of children have grown up shooting hoops in their driveway or at the curb before dinner and on long summer days.
Now, in Maplewood, curbside basketball hoops are coming under fire for being violations of township code, with residents facing potential $1,000 fines if they do not remove the structures from the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb.
“It’s heartbreaking, shortsighted and stupid, and no one can give me a good reason why they are taking this away from our kids,” said Genine Babakian, a Bowdoin Street resident whose neighbors were forced to take down a hoop that had become a mainstay of the block.
Meanwhile town officials say they are looking out for residents’ safety, and that the hoops might obstruct emergency vehicles, lead to traffic accidents or become potential hazards in severe storms.
According to township code 239-28, no one shall “encumber or obstruct…any street, highway, alley or other public place in the Township by erecting, depositing, placing or leaving or suffering to be erected, deposited, placed or left therein any building materials, stone, dirt, refuse, ashes, vehicles, structures, obstructions…”
The entire code can be seen on the township’s website.
Babakian was outraged and confused, because as she and her neighbors see it, a hoop placed on the curb (as opposed to in the street itself) is no more of an obstruction than a tree or a telephone pole. She complained to the town’s building, fire and police departments. One official told her the enforcement was in response to complaints from passing motorists, another said hoops might block emergency vehicles, still another told her it was an esthetic issue.
“Not one person could give me a simple answer…” said Babakian. “If you’re going to make this rule at least explain it. It doesn’t make any sense.”
She said township officials gave the green light for the hoop to go back up. Then, a few weeks ago, in response to a recommendation in July by the Code Enforcement Subcommittee, the town sent out violations to all households with curbside basketball hoops.
Michael Kasdan of Summit Avenue shares Babakian’s indignation. Like many Maplewood residents, Kasdan and his wife have a driveway too narrow to fit a hoop, and moving his weighted curbside hoop in and out each night is impractical. His 12-year-old son, a student at South Orange Middle School, has been shooting hoops for years without incident, Kasdan said, until they received a warning notice from the town in early July demanding the hoop be removed within five days.
Kasdan said his son was very upset because shooting hoops in front of the house is one of his favorite activities, “and I grew up the same way.” Kasdan said curbside hoops are a cheap, accessible way to foster community and encourage physical activity.
After calling numerous town officials to find out the reason for the sudden crackdown, Kasdan received an email from Township Committeewoman India Larrier, chair of the code enforcement subcommittee, who said the hoops are a potential safety issue and could block the right of way.
Noting that the safety of residents falls under the purview of the township committee, Larrier told Kasdan that “…while basketball hoops may seem innocuous, the code covers ALL obstructions…[t]herefore, not only basketball hoops are prohibited, but mail boxes, blow-up objects, BBQ grills, Ping-Pong tables etc.”
Larrier told The Village Green the town received a complaint several months ago about debris being left around one basketball hoop. “After looking at the situation…we realized that there were…several of these apparatus in the right of ways around town, as well as a proliferation of lawn signs.”
Larrier said she wants to ensure that the rules are enforced “evenly and fairly” and do not single out individual homeowners. “[We] looked hard at the ordinance and felt it continues to be a necessary rule.” Regarding safety issues, she said a hoop could be blown into the street by very strong wind gusts.
Kasdan said that was “a massive stretch.” He said, “I don’t see why it is any more of a safety issue than kids playing catch in the street or throwing a Frisbee, which is what they will be doing if forced not to be able to play basketball.”
In a letter to Mayor Vic DeLuca and the rest of the township committee, Kasdan called the policy “misguided” and the decision “unwarranted, overreaching, and bad policy.”
Kasdan started a petition on Facebook, and it has so far accumulated around 50 signatures, to urge the township to reconsider the ban or provide a variance for those with curbside hoops. He plans to speak out at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting, at 7:30 p.m. at the Police & Courts Building on Springfield Avenue.
Babakian said she “cannot fathom why [the town is] being so hardcore,” and she said dozens of nearby towns, such as South Orange, permit hoops on the curb.
Kasdan and Babakian say the town is being shortsighted by enforcing this code when they should encouraging children to get more physical activity. Babakian said that since the hoop was taken down, “runs to the corner store for candy and soda have multiplied, as have the hours my kids have spent playing Xbox.”
Babakian said she and her neighbors will be at the Tuesday’s meeting. “And I’m recruiting as many kids as I can.”