Salesh Gupta moved to Broadlands four years ago, thinking it would be the ideal place for him and his wife to raise their two sons. For the most part, he remains happy with their lifestyle in the Ashburn community -- a three-story Colonial home, a quiet street, a spacious back yard.
But Gupta says he feels he is in danger of losing an important suburban amenity -- the portable basketball hoop in his driveway. Three months ago, the Broadlands homeowners association informed him he was violating one of its rules by weighing down the basketball pole with sandbags to keep it upright.
The rule states that homeowners are allowed to secure the pole only by filling the base with water or sand or staking it with ropes. "Alternate forms of weighting, for example cinder blocks or bagged sand, are not acceptable," the guideline says.
Association President Cliff Keirce said the rule was enacted in 2005, 10 years after Broadlands was founded, because many residents complained that the sandbags holding down basketball hoops were sullying the beauty of the neighborhood.
"These bags were getting piled up, in some cases splitting open and getting unsightly," Keirce said.
Safety was also a concern, he said, contending that the hoop manufacturers do not recommend the sandbag method.
The association has issued notices of noncompliance to 22 other homeowners in the 2,900-home community. All have removed their sand or gravel bags to avoid being fined.
Not Gupta. He pleaded his case before the association's modification subcommittee last month. When they turned him down, he appealed the decision to the full board of directors, which will hear the case in March. Gupta also has written to Loudoun County supervisors and members of Loudoun's state legislative delegation, urging them to look into the issue. He said he will take the case to small claims court if his appeal to the board failed, although he said he hoped it wouldn't come to that. The neighborhood association fine he faces could be as much as $900.
Placing sand or gravel bags over the base is the safest way to keep a basketball hoop upright, Gupta said. He said that it is by far the most common method and that he has never heard of another community banning the bags.
"I drove around a lot in Sterling and Herndon. I have lived in Texas, Florida, New Jersey and New York. And everywhere I've seen people using bags. That's the only secure way," he said.
Keirce said last week that he could not provide an example of another homeowners association with a similar policy. But he said a Broadlands association board member contacted Reebok, which makes portable basketball hoops, last month and was told by a customer service representative that sandbags can destabilize a hoop by changing its center of gravity.
Reebok's online instruction manual recommends filling the basketball pole base with water or sand and using ropes and stakes for extra stability. It also advises laying the pole on the ground during inclement weather. The manual makes no recommendation for or against sandbags.
Gupta said he hadn't spoken with anyone at Reebok. But his home insurance company weighed in, he said, with a strong recommendation that he add the bags.
During a particularly windy day last winter, Gupta's basketball pole fell on a guest's car in the driveway, causing several hundred dollars in damage. The claim was paid by his insurance company.
At the time of the accident, the base was partially filled with water and secured with two sandbags. Gupta said he now uses seven sandbags and has not had problems.
As for using ropes and stakes, Gupta said they strike him as a much greater safety hazard because small children could trip over them.
Gupta's sons are 13 and 11, and the basketball hoop has become a gathering place for them and their friends. If sandbags are ugly, he said, so is the prospect of putting basketball poles out of commission because of an overly restrictive policy.
"If you see a hundred basketball hoops lying on the ground in the winter, it doesn't add to the beauty of the place. It gives it a sad look," Gupta said. "What am I supposed to tell my kids?"