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Inside one Maryland community, a fight to save backyard basketball hoops

Children shoot hoops in the Maple Lawn subdivision in Howard County. The homeowners’ association has told residents the hoops must come down when not in use. (Jacob Bogage/The Washington Post)

When the violation notice from the neighborhood homeowners’ association first arrived in Sam Sheth’s mailbox, he thought it was a joke. He thought someone had gotten hold of letterhead and made up some sort of phony new rule about the basketball hoop outside his single-family home, one he has used in the same neighborhood for nearly a decade.

When the second notice came, which identified the hoop as “portable play equipment,” he thought it was a mistake. And when the third notice came, this time threatening a fine, he laughed and threw it away.

Residents in Howard County’s Maple Lawn subdivision, a planned community built in 2005 near Routes 29 and 32, are fighting to save basketball hoops that have adorned driveways, back alleys and front yards for years but have recently become a source of tension.

HOA violation notices started arriving at the beginning of the summer, residents say, without explanation as to why the hoops ran afoul of community regulations. Some homeowners have taken down their hoops, wary of potential fines.

“They’ve been dropping like flies this summer,” homeowner Matt Slatkin said.

One street over from Slatkin’s house, he said, four hoops have come down in the past month.

He insisted he will leave his hoop standing next to his garage for his two daughters, ages 7 and 9, and their friends. Another family on Slatkin’s street took down its hoop and stored it in the garage but displayed it proudly Tuesday night ahead of an HOA meeting attendees described as “hot” and “contentious.”

More than 40 neighbors gathered at Slatkin’s backyard Tuesday night in a sort of tailgate before the meeting. While kids played hoops on either end of the street, parents compared violation notices and planned remarks for the upcoming meeting while sipping iced tea and light beer. Slatkin ordered pizza.

A reporter was not permitted to attend the homeowners’ association meeting. The association’s board declined to speak on the record and instead asked The Washington Post to email a list of questions Tuesday night. The board has not yet responded to those inquiries.

“I find it really silly,” said Caitlin Bossle, 12, whose hoop has been dragged into her garage. She waits for her father to get home from work every night to drag it back into the alley so she can play with friends. Afterward she and her father lower the rim and take it back inside.

“I don’t know why there’d be a reason we can’t shoot hoops in our own neighborhood,” she said.

“Do we want kids sitting inside on their phone and iPad?” Sheth asked.

At issue seems to be whether the baskets are truly “portable” as the violation notices claim, residents said, describing past conversation with HOA leaders. The association, residents said, contends that the full-size hoops fall into the same category as other easily movable toys, such as bicycles, scooters or balls.

Residents counter that the goals are not portable at all: They must be anchored into the ground or the bases filled with hundreds of pounds of sand and water to prevent the hoop from tipping over and injuring players.

To illustrate the difference, one mother brought a three-foot plastic hoop to the meeting.

In the end, the board passed a 30-day moratorium on new violations and penalties. Slatkin said afterward he was optimistic the community could come to resolution on the issue and that he was glad this group of neighbors, most of whom never attend HOA meetings, got to be heard.

Regardless, he said, he is not taking his hoop down.

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