Delaware City Council members are considering a revamp of an ordinance that prohibits playing in the street.
Council debated the merits of the city ordinance for more than an hour at its meeting Monday, June 24. The ordinance, created in 1967 to keep roads unobstructed, came to the attention of city leaders earlier this month when a resident of the Lantern Chase subdivision complained to council after receiving a warning from police to remove a basketball hoop from the sidewalk, clean up a court painted on the road and stop playing in the street.
The city's parking and safety committee discussed the ordinance at its June 17 meeting, but chose to send it back to council without a recommendation.
"We can't have an ordinance for everything" said Councilwoman Lisa Keller. She said she felt the rule is confusing and overly restrictive in addition to being completely unnecessary.
"Is this ordinance really preventing any kids from playing four-square in the street?" Keller asked.
The ordinance states, "No person shall throw, pitch, bowl, knock with a bat, stick, board or any other substance, or in any manner propel in, on or over any public street, sidewalk, alley, square or space within the city, any ball, stone or solid substance."
Keller said she'd like to see the ordinance removed and instead for police to charge troublemakers with disorderly conduct.
But Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski said he'd like to keep the ordinance intact to enforce in those times when common sense hasn't prevailed and children and drivers are put at risk. He added that pursuing a disorderly conduct charge may be considered too harsh of a punishment.
The current ordinance is complaint-driven, meaning police won't cite residents who are playing in the street who haven't caused trouble with neighbors or drivers, Pijanowski said.
Plenty of residents have complained about the Lantern Chase basketball player who sparked this debate. Four of the fifth-grader's neighbors who live on Stonhope Drive attended the meeting to plead with City Council to keep the ordinance.
"After seeing him playing in the street constantly, my 4-year-old thinks it's OK to go out there, too, and when I'm backing out of my driveway or coming in at night, I can't see him there, so I'm always afraid I'll hit him," said neighbor Renelle Tompkins.
"The only reason I'm protected if I hit (the basketball player) with my car is because there is a law that says you can't play in the street.
"Having this law also gives me something to tell my kids when they think it's OK to follow his lead and play in the street," Tompkins added. "I can say, 'People who make rules understand that we can't do that and you're breaking the law.' "
Councilman Andrew Brush took an informal vote to see which members would say that playing in the street is acceptable under certain circumstances. The decision was 5-2, with Councilman Joe DiGenova and Vice Mayor Windell Wheeler voting to keep an ordinance that would make being caught playing in the street a minor misdemeanor.
Both said they agree with Pijanowski's reasons for keeping an ordinance on the books.
To bring an end to the discussion, City Attorney Darren Shulman offered to rewrite the ordinance to make it clearer and less restrictive. He said he also would show council what the code book would look like without the ordinance.
Despite the option, Miller and Councilman Chris Jones urged an immediate vote on the topic, referring to the informal poll Brush took earlier in the night.
Mayor Gary Milner said although he is against the current ordinance, he'd be willing to vote in favor of keeping one that Shulman will revise.
Council is expected to make a decision on the ordinance at its July 22 meeting.