Roger Eastman savors after-work basketball games against his two teen-age sons in their Seabrook driveway. But now the hand of the Prince George's County government may block their shots.
Acting on a complaint from Virgil Hickman, Eastman's next-door neighbor of four years, the Department of Licenses and Permits notified Eastman that his basketball pole and metal rim constitute an illegal building structure and sent him a citation. Eastman has until Jan. 19 to take down the pole or appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
"I can't believe this is happening," said Eastman's wife Beverly. "It's unfair. We have no intention of taking it down," she said. "I feel like all the corners of the county government are coming down on me."
Instead, the Eastmans say they are willing to take their basketball case to court, if necessary.
The roundball row, however, is just one of the salvos the Presley Street neighbors have fired at one another recently.
Hickman, is a 61-year-old retired government attorney. In the last year, he and Eastman, both parties say, have quarreled over where they park cars and traded words about the noise coming from the Eastman's basketball court, air conditioner, backyard swimming pool and two dogs.
As a result, both families have filed a variety of complaints with the county government, fusing about the location of fences and house improvements. And each family accuses the other of harassment.
The chief complaint, however, centers around a bouncing ball. "When they start pounding it on the concrete, it sounds like a jackhammer," said Hickman.
Joseph Healey, the county's chief of property standard calls the squabble absurd. "We'd rather not get involved," he said after waiting six months before taking action on Hickman's complaint.
"I hoped it would just go away," Healey said. "The law is ridiculous and I think everybody in the world will agree."
Hickman, said Healey, has been adamant in pursuing his complaint. So, on Dec. 19, the county mailed Eastman a citation for allegedly breaking a county law by having a pole higher than six feet tall within eight feet of the neighboring property line and less than 25 feet from the county road.
Eastman, a 38-year-old sheet metal worker, said the basket was erected seven years ago when his wife's parents owned the home. "They put it up so our kids (Craig, 16 and Troy, 12) could shoot a few b-balls when we came over. I left it up there when we bought the house four years ago because I want our kids to enjoy their home and not be driven away from it."
The soft-spoken Hickmans says the Eastmans are the noisiest people he has ever known. "They have no consideration at all. We have to let these people know that there are laws in this country and people have to live by them. I have been hit by their basketball and my windows have been hit with a B-B gun, and I don't think either was an accident . . .," he said.
William Gullet, the county's director of licensing and permits, said the Eastmans can appeal the citation to the county's zoning board of appeals. If the board rules against them, and the Eastmans refuse to take down the pole, the county could prosecute them in Prince George's Circuit Court. If convicted, Eastman could face a fine of $500, or 90 days in jail.
Healey noted, however, that the county had not prosecuted a zoning violation in many years.
Said Gullet: "The only way to solve neighborhood fights is to sit down and talk about it."