The Arlington County Board, trying to strike a delicate balance between homeowners' rights and the ire of opposing neighbors, yesterday granted a conditional one-year permit to a Lyon Park family for their back yard skateboard ramp.
"I think people should be able to use their own property for what they want, within reason," said County Board Member Michael E. Brunner, who joined other board members in placing sound, safety and time restraints on the use of the ramp.
The ramp, built in May by 16-year-old Jay Madrid in the family's back yard at 233 N. Garfield St., has split much of the neighborhood. Some portray its use as a wholesome and harmless rite of adolescence, with others complaining bitterly about noise and safety.
"We feel our right to use our property is substantially threatened because suddenly the community at large is alarmed at over what will be a temporary thing," said John Madrid. He joined his wife Frances in offering compromises with their neighbors over the ramp.
The issue landed before the County Board yesterday after the county's zoning office, following neighbors' complaints, ruled that the U-shaped ramp -- 28 feet wide and about 10 feet tall -- would need a special permit to be used in a residential neighborhood.
"We are all products of noise in this neighborhood . . . crying babies, barking dogs," said M.M. McClure, a neighbor who supported the ramp. "Most of us live and let live . . . . This problem will resolve itself in a few years. The boys will move on to cars and girls."
Robert Wills, a former neighbor who owns a nearby house, compared the noise to "Chinese water torture . . . . You can't wait for it to end." He added that he worried that a youngster would get hurt falling off the ramp and complained that he cannot erect barriers that are sufficient to block the noise.
As a packed room of spectators looked on, some of them young skateboarders dressed in colorful Hawaiian print outfits and carrying skateboards to match, the County Board agreed unanimously that the issue was one the neighborhood would have to help settle.
"What is really an issue among adjacent neighbors has found itself before the County Board as a countywide issue -- and it's not, really," said County Board Chairman John G. Milliken.
"We all try to live as peacefully in communities as we can," said Board Member Ellen M. Bozman. She urged that the ramp be chained while unsupervised, the hours of its use be strictly controlled, and additional soundproofing materials be used. The neighbors were asked to compromise on other modifications in the rules.