Good neighbors

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board September 07, 2011 05:20 pm

Baker City’s rare, privately owned complex of four grass tennis courts continues to generate controversy.

Sorting out the current disagreement could prove trickier than past conflicts, though.

At issue is the extent to which the city should, or legally can, limit how, and how often, the courts are used.

In one respect this is a simple matter. A 2004 conditional-use permit allows the courts’ owner, Don McClure, to play host to tournament play on no more than 22 days per year, spread among a maximum of six separate events.

The city can’t legally allow McClure to exceed those limits because doing so would constitute an expansion of the courts, which are already a “non-conforming use” in urban planning lingo.

But this summer, some neighbors who contend that noise from the courts is disruptive have posed a different question: What about so-called “social” play, when people are using the courts but not competing in an official tournament?

Trouble is, the conditional-use permit doesn’t mention, much less define, “social play.”

But it’s abundantly clear, based on the history of complaints about the grass courts that date back more than a decade, that the root of the issue is how the use of the courts — whether you call it a tournament or social play or just plain old exercise — affects neighbors.

It would neither be fair to the neighbors, nor consistent with the spirit of land-use law, for the city to allow unlimited use of the grass courts except on those 22 “tournament” days.

That’s a gaping loophole.

To that end, City Planner Jenny Long said she has asked McClure and others associated with the courts to propose “boundaries” on social play.

That’s a reasonable request.

It would be appropriate, for instance, for McClure to agree to prohibit, or at least restrict, social play on a few weekends during summer.

The neighbors would undoubtedly appreciate such a gesture.

We think it’s even more important, though, for McClure and members of Save the Grass Courts Association (SAGA), the nonprofit group that organizes tournaments, to encourage visiting players to act responsibly while they’re on the property.

To be good neighbors, in other words.

We don’t doubt that the vast majority of people who visit the grass courts are just that.

But perhaps an occasional reminder — and maybe posting a sign or two — would eliminate those rare instances of bad behavior that seem to be responsible for much of the hard feelings that have flared occasionally among neighbors since the grass courts were built.