Delaware News

Delaware cleans up city laws that nix streetball

Playing in street still illegal, but punishment isn't likely for offenders

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Delaware City Council last week updated city laws that ban children from playing in the street -- but the chances of the tightened rules leading to citations is slim, police say.

Council voted unanimously to repeal and amend language in city ordinances that addresses activity in the roadways and sidewalks.

The changes came after multiple residents complained in June about a Lantern Chase basketball player. The fifth-grader allegedly kept a basketball hoop on the sidewalk and painted a basketball court in the middle of Stanhope Drive. Multiple neighbors attended council's June 24 meeting to plead with members to keep and improve ordinances that prohibit playing in the street.

At the time, Councilman Andrew Brush took an informal poll to determine which council members would vote to get rid of the original ordinance that dealt with playing in the street. Five members said they would nix the ordinance and go no further with the matter, while Councilmen Windell Wheeler and Joe DiGenova said they'd vote to keep the ordinance on the books.

To end the one-hour discussion about the ordinance, City Attorney Darren Schulman told council he would revise the sections and give council an option through a vote.

The previous ordinance that council voted to repeal stated, "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."

Schulman called the code "funny, under-inclusive and over-inclusive all at once."

He then cleaned up existing ordinances to ensure they govern playing in the streets.

The ordinance originally titled "Toy Vehicles on Streets" now is called "Misuse of Streets." The amended ordinance reads, "No person shall go upon or occupy the portion of any street or roadway intended for purposes of vehicular travel for a purpose other than crossing the street or as permitted in 371.05 or as otherwise permitted by law."

Ordinance 371.05 was changed from "Walking on Highways" to "Walking in Street."

Violating the ordinance would be a minor misdemeanor on the first offense. A second offense within one year would result in a misdemeanor of the fourth degree, and a third offense would lead to a third-degree misdemeanor.

Because of the punishments tied to the ordinances, Councilwoman Lisa Keller said she considered voting against them.

"Nobody wants to encourage playing in the streets, but no one wants it to be a crime if (children do play in the streets)," she said.

Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski said no tickets had been written under the former ordinance and his officers "generally try to be reasonable" when approaching children playing in the street.

In other words, officers likely will cite the ordinances to deter children from playing in the streets, but won't use it to punish offenders, he said.

Vice Mayor Windell Wheel-er agreed with Pijanowski.

"Our safety force needs something to refer back to if there ever is a problem," he said.

Although the conversation originally stemmed from a basketball hoop in the right of way, no changes were made to the ordinance that prohib-its residents from placing items on sidewalks and in tree lawns.

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