It's only 16 feet wide, but Rick Austin and his mother say the plywood skateboard ramp in their Potomac back yard has become a siege wall dividing them from the rest of the neighborhood.
"It's like the Hatfields and the McCoys," Joan Austin said last night, as neighbors who object to the ramp gathered at the home next door to plan a protest of the ramp.
"We've had a constant parade of building inspectors, noise inspectors and police," Austin continued, "but none of the neighbors has ever said anything to us directly. They've never told us what they object to.
"We're even getting phone calls in the middle of the night, and nobody's there. I guess skateboarding just isn't socially acceptable in Potomac."
Carolyn Corrigan, who organized the protest meeting at her home with her husband, said she had been trying to get the ramp dismantled for two years. "I can't even sit out on my patio because of the noise."
But last weekend, when a skateboarding contest at the Austins' drew more than 40 participants with their friends from as far away as Boston and Virginia Beach, neighbors from surrounding blocks complained of parking problems and claimed the skaters were rowdy, drinking beer and yelling at neighborhood children.
So Monday, the Corrigans stuffed fliers into mailboxes in the community inviting disgruntled residents to band together to find a "solution." "It's like the Hatfields and the McCoys." -- Joan Austin
"I don't know what kind of a solution they could come up with that would be 'acceptable to all,' " Joan Austin said.
According to Rick Austin and several of his friends, one of the reasons his ramp is so popular is the simple scarcity of facilities. A similar ramp in Fairfax has been dismantled, and skater Sam Boo, who had a ramp at his home in Gaithersburg, said he had to give it up when his landlord had insurance problems.
"There's a place is Virginia Beach," said Rick Austin, "but the nearest complete skate park is in Jacksonville, Florida, and 18 hours is kind of a long drive for a few hours' skating."
Austin said he publicized his contest through skateboarding magazines and got sponsorship from equipment manufacturers and stores in Ocean City, California and Florida.
Upon arriving, skaters signed a liability release form that included a list of eight rules, among them: "Don't park on neighbors' lawns . . . loud abusive language will not be tolerated . . . . Remember, we live here all year. You're here for the weekend only so behave as if you were at home."
About 40 participants slept at the Austin home in sleeping bags, Joan Austin said, "and they vacuumed the house, they swept, they washed every towel they used."
"If you treat young people with respect, they'll treat you with respect. If you treat them with contempt, that's what you'll get," Austin continued. The neighbors who complained of rowdiness "saw what they expected to see."