Skateboard Ramp Tests Neighbors' Nerves And City Codes

Nothing seems to raise the neighbors' ire in warm weather quite like several hours of youngsters swooshing up and down a skateboard ramp, accompanied by boom boxes.

And though complaining neighbors acknowledge they'd rather see kids actively pursuing an interest than getting into mischief or doing drugs, it's tough to deal with the noise.

Recently we received a complaint about a ramp that is approximately 40 by 9 feet. That's a substantial chunk of space in a residential neighborhood.

Seattle zoning inspectors called on the owners. A representative of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health's noise-abatement program also has discussed noise problems with the ramp owners.

The zoning committee of the Seattle Department of Construction and Land Use has decided that skateboard ramps are playground equipment and therefore not within its scope under the code.

Ramps are a new development since the building code was written. And playground equipment historically has not been mentioned in the code.

Inspectors say the city is still smarting from media coverage and complaints from citizens several years ago when the city tried to take action over a treehouse.

``Maybe we shouldn't be involved in enforcing playground equipment,'' says Steve Horswill, a senior inspector in the city's housing and zoning enforcement division.

At this point the city doesn't require a building permit for

skateboard ramps.

If the city created a process and issued a permit for a ramp, there is concern about the extent to which the city might be considered liable in case of injuries, said Mark D. Summers, code compliance coordinator.

Management in the city's Department of Construction and Land Use is studying the problem of skateboard ramps and will accept comments. To do so, write Dennis McClerran, Director, Seattle Department of Construction and Land Use, 400 Municipal Building, 600 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.

Regarding the noise created by ramps, Curt Horner, coordinator of the city-county noise abatement program, says:

``I have never seen a ramp that meets the noise code in Seattle or King County.''

Good engineering, thought and fairly expensive materials are required to make a quiet skateboard ramp, Horner says.

Fixed skateboard ramps are not permitted in residential areas, says Jerry Balcom, supervisor of code developmentfor the King County Building and Land Division. However the county has not prohibited portable ramps that can be dissassembled, because they usually are smaller devices.

The county has considered drafting a code section on ramps, requiring them to be set back a specific distance from property lines and other criteria, Balcom said.

Bellevue's code does not mention skateboard ramps.

Will Medlicott, Bellevue's code complaince supervisor, says that city has not had an enforcement action involving ramps.

One family took its ramp down because it caused problems with neighbors. It was large enough for youngsters to ride bikes on.

But if someone asked about building a ramp, he'd be told he'd need a permit if it exceeded 120 square feet. And the ramp would be evaluated for structural safety, including guardrails, Medlicott said.

Horner says most ramp owners don't receive complaints as long as it's just the family using the device. But when friends begin to flock in, the complaints begin.

Of course, not everyone who invites friends in charges admission. But if ramp owners begin to accept money regularly from friends, they could find themselves being regulated as a business.

Problems? Write us

Last month The Troubleshooter's mailbag contained 737 letters.

Of the free materials we offer, information on buying a used car and auto insurance were the most popular.

Information on bankruptcy and related problems also was in great demand.

If you've got a consumer problem you haven't been able to resolve, write to us.

If you would like any of the free materials we offer, send a separate stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope for each item.

To help speed sorting and mailing, please list the item you want on the outer and inner envelopes. Free materials we offer include:

``How to Buy a Used Car'' from the State Department of Licensing.

-- Information on forms of bankruptcy and credit counseling from the Washington State Bar Association, the Chapter 13 Trustee and Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Seattle.

-- From the state Department of Labor and Industries, advice on hiring a contractor before you build or remodel and ``Youth in the Jobforce: A Guide for Employers and Minor Workers.''

-- From the Federal Trade Commission, ``Consumer Guide to the FTC Funeral Rule,'' and ``Should You Join a Buying Club?''

-- From the state insurance commissioner, a cost-comparison survey on auto insurance policies. (Auto insurance is mandatory in Washington.)

-- From the attorney general, ``Revised Motor Vehicle Lemon Law,'' ``Auto Repair Law,'' ``A Summary of Washington State Law on Repossessions,'' ``Don't Take the Bait'' (on telemarketing versus telefraud), ``What To Do When a Death Occurs,'' ``Your Cancellation Rights,'' ``Collection Agencies,'' ``Residential Landlord-Tenant Law,'' ``Washington's Health Club Law,'' ``Camping Club Information,'' ``Buying a Mobile Home'' and ``Taking Further Action,'' a brochure that discusses small-claims court, hiring an attorney and arbitration.

-- From Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Seattle, literature on how to receive help with credit problems.

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Sunday through Thursday in the Scene section of The Times. Do you have a problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include copies, not originals, of documents indicating payment, guarantees, contracts and other relevant materials.