By Toni Stauffer
On Jan. 17, Phenix City resident Nick Cox received a citation from the city regarding a basketball goal he had cemented into the city’s right-of-way at his 3215 Silver Lake Drive address. The city fined Cox $417 for violating zoning ordinance Article VI, Section 13, gave him 10 days to remove the goal and promised to follow up on Jan. 28. Cox decided to stand his ground.
In an earlier interview, Cox said that he wants the kids to play outside and to enjoy life, that the basketball goal brings the community together. He didn’t see any harm being done and hoped that the city would change its mind.
Cox had support from Phenix City residents who didn’t understand why the city was making such a big deal over a basketball goal, especially since it’s in a cul-de-sac. But other residents stood with the city and thought Cox should have been fighting to change the ordinance instead wanting an exception to it.
Russell County Chair and Commission Peggy Martin is Cox’s next-door neighbor. Martin had wanted to add a basketball goal for her grandchildren on her own property. Martin is also Cox’s representative for District 3 and felt she should support him, especially since he has good intentions.
“I know this is a city question and it’s up to the city, but it doesn’t hurt for a property owner to request,” Martin said. “The city is there to be in service to the citizens, particularly when it comes to something that could benefit children, however, we need to look at why there are rules and abide by the rules.”
Martin expressed surprise when she learned Cox had cemented the goal into place. “I didn’t have a clue about him putting it in cement. It’s important that the city has that right-of-way,” Martin said. “The issue would maybe be the utility line that is running in that right of way.”
When Cox met with the Phenix City Council at the Monday afternoon work session, he learned that the council would not be swayed. The council did explain that it isn’t just a safety issue, but a legal issue. Gil Griffith, chief building officer for the city, said the city may be liable for any kids hurt while playing in the street. City attorney Jimmy Graham supported Griffith’s statement as did City Manager Wallace Hunter.
Cox disagreed that the goal presented a safety risk and presented pictures of the cul-de-sac.
“We let kids ride bikes in the neighborhood, and throw footballs. I grew up playing in the street,” Cox said. “Obviously, there is a risk, but you can get hurt doing anything. But there’s not an inherent risk. It’s a quiet cul-de-sac. I don’t see any reason why anyone would think this is a dangerous situation. It was told to me that I could have one of those mobile goals with water and sand in the bottom where you can roll it down for play and then roll it back. My goal is actually safer, because it’s not going to fall down. That goal is not going anywhere. It also has a special function where it can’t be lowered without a special tool. The bigger issue, I think, is if you let me do it, what’s stopping anybody else.”
Cox suggested a solution to the latter, proposing that the city allow citizens to apply to have a basketball goal in their neighborhood. He said the council could assess the situation, charge like a $50 fee and have them waive the City’s liability.
“I think it’s that easy. We should be encouraging people to do things like that to bring the community and people together,” Cox said.
Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe commended Cox for his passion and good intentions, but said that it’s not just a safety issue.
“We have been very, very consistent on how we try to handle the business of this city,” Lowe said. “We have to be consistent for everyone who lives in this community. Once you get away from that, you open up Pandora’s box.”
Lowe added that when people run for office, they are not even allowed to put their signs in the right-of-way. “It puts us in a tough situation, because once you lower standards, in my experience, it’s always impossible to raise them back up,” Lowe said.
Griffith explained that the right-of-way is set aside for all of the utilities, most of which can’t be seen since they are underground. Hunter said that Cox had received bad information in that the portable goals were not legal either, as far as leaving them in the right-a-way—the city would still have liability for injuries, and they block the path of the mail trucks.
“If the city doesn’t know about it, that’s one thing, but once the city knows about it, when somebody complains about it, then we’re taking ownership over something the city could go broke over,” Hunter said.
It was stated that other residents have had the same request and have been denied, so Cox wasn’t being singled out.
At the end of the discussion, Cox thanked the council for their time and said he wasn’t taking the decision personally.