BALTIMORE — On a warm day, it wouldn’t be unusual to spot kids shooting baskets in a driveway of Rockland Ridge, a gated Baltimore County community.
Since a new state law barred “unreasonable” restrictions on portable hoops, the new homeowners’ association president says she is pleased kids can get out and play the sport, and is thankful the legislation “eliminated some conflict within our community.”
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County initiated the measure following a dispute over the development’s rule that rollaway hoops violated a declaration in its covenant regarding recreational equipment. The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, guarantees families can keep portable hoops that the homeowners’ association — then under different leadership — had said were not allowed.
Jones and other prominent backers consider the law a Band-Aid that patches up a symptom of a broader problem: the use of covenants to discriminate, sometimes subtly, against racial or ethnic groups.
“There are some veiled and underlying biases that come through the rule making of these organizations,” said state Sen. Will Smith, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“It’s a proxy for a conversation we’re not really having,” said Smith, who visited Rockland Ridge, a wooded, professionally landscaped community of town homes and two-car garages near Lake Roland, in March. He and state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a fellow Montgomery County Democrat, looked into the dispute and shot baskets with two boys who live there.
The boys — Khasan Al-Mateen, who is African American, and Cooper Chasm, who is Korean American — were eager, particularly during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, to keep shooting hoops in their driveways. But their families said they were ordered to remove the hoops under the community’s covenant.
“The one thing I never thought would be taken away during this pandemic was my portable basketball hoop,” Cooper, then 13, told a state House committee in the spring during a hearing about the bill.
Jones, who had heard about the dispute from county residents, said she watched Cooper’s poised, online testimony.
“All they were doing is shooting some baskets, What’s the harm in that? One boy was at his own home, and the other was his friend,” Jones said in an interview this month. “I wanted to know, is that something that’s unique to Baltimore County? Or is this happening elsewhere?”
Jones, the first African American and first woman to serve as speaker, said she learned from other lawmakers that basketball hoops — but not soccer goals or lacrosse nets — seemed to be flash points for similar conflicts around the state, particularly in Prince George’s County, whose population is nearly two-thirds Black.
“We’re in a moment of racial reckoning where many communities are acknowledging implicit bias,” said Waldstreicher, the state senator. “I think communities having challenging conversations is a positive thing.”
The law prohibits “an unreasonable limitation on the use of a portable basketball apparatus” on a resident’s property. It allows families to keep portable baskets in their driveways even when they’re not being used, said Smith, who advocated for the bill.
He said communities can restrict basketball sets in common areas and regulate activity — such as shooting baskets in the middle of the night — that could be considered a nuisance.
Basketball sets have often been at the center of disagreements. In Coral Springs, Florida, there was discord last summer over whether race was a factor in closing some courts. Similar debates have occurred in St. Louis and other cities.
“I think it comes up a lot because certain communities want to maintain certain aesthetics,” said Alessandra Stivelman, a Florida-based attorney specializing in condominium and planned development law. “A lot of times it’s because it’s an older community where there aren’t lot of kids, and all of a sudden kids come along.”
Caroline McClure, the Rockland Ridge Homeowners Association board president, said she embraced the new law. She declined to address whether race may have factored into the basketball hoop restriction.
“I don’t want to speculate. I’m not in people’s minds,” she said. “For me, it was more about what’s reasonable within a community. I personally want a lively community where there are kids out and about playing.”
McClure said Rockland Ridge’s governing documents “definitely do define what personal homeowners can or cannot do within the community. We have a landscaping company that mows everybody’s lawn. Technically, even if you want to plant a rose bush on your property, you have to get permission from the architectural committee.”
McClure said she became president in June after her predecessor, Henry J. Suelau, resigned.
Efforts to reach Suelau, an attorney, through publicly listed telephone numbers were unsuccessful. He told The Baltimore Sun in March that “most emphatically, racial bias played no part” in the decision to reject basketball goals, and that a swing set had recently been denied as an impermissible recreational structure. He also said that portable hoops had been denied in years past to white residents.
Eric Rockel of Lutherville, who heads an umbrella group of community associations, read about the Rockland Ridge controversy in March in The Sun. He wrote in his organization’s newsletter in May that it is “impossible to know whether racial bias played any part in the events as the parents suspect.”
“The shame for me,” Rockel said in a recent interview, “is somebody would look at it through a racial lens rather than that an informed property owner ought to know the rules and regulations.”
The law “leaves a little bit of a gray area as to what is reasonable,” said Steven Randol, chair of the Maryland Legislative Action Committee, which advocates for community association owners and managers.
Randol said community association boards tend to be wary of legislation that may impede their ability to self-govern. But he said he favored the legislation because “everybody wants their kids to be able to play, and to play safely.”
———©2021 The Baltimore Sun. Visit at baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.