This story was corrected at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 8. An explanation of the correction is at the bottom of the story.
Residents have dubbed it “the alley wars” — an ongoing conflict between neighbors in the Villages of Urbana about the alleys that surround a playground.
For some parents, like Eileen Whalen, the alleys are seen as a safe, low-traffic area for their small children to ride bikes and scooters. But for others, such as Jodi McIlmail and the Villages’ homeowner’s association, it’s a dangerous roadway and no place for children.
“Of course no one’s going to intentionally hit a child,” McIlnail said. “But accidents happen all the time. It blows my mind that the parents are continuing to fight this fight.”
Eileen Whalen, whose two children frequent the playground, said it and the alleys make a natural place for children and parents to congregate, and that neighbors should watch their speed while children play.
“Essentially what we have here is a very unfortunate design flaw,” Whalen said.
The dispute has been heated enough that the homeowner’s association has stepped in. Aimee Winegar, general manager with the Villages of Urbana, said there are 14 playgrounds, or tot lots, in the development, but Tavistock is the only one that’s created such a stir among neighbors.
“This is the only tot lot that’s completely surrounded by streets,” Winegar said. “The others are set back in into green space.”
Four roads — Amelung and Spring streets and Tavistock and Lew Wallace roads — back up to the alleys around the playground, which provide access to the homes’ garages. Winegar said the association has discussed the problem with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and distributed information to homeowners warning them that children are not supposed to use the pavement for playing, and not to place tables, chairs or other objects in the roadway.
It also cautioned drivers to be safe and aware of their surroundings, and that parents of unsupervised children playing in the street could be cited by Child Protective Services.
Jennifer Bailey, spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies have responded to calls in the area for children riding bikes in the alley twice in the past three months: once on March 19 and again May 6. No charges were filed, Bailey said.
Whalen said she’s witnessed cars speeding through the area where children are playing, including several near-misses and hopes her neighbors will be more courteous and slow down.
“Obviously most people, when they’re around kids, they take it slow,” she said.
McIlnail said there’s typically about 10 to 15 children and their parents in the alley when she comes home from work to park her car.
“The parents scream and yell that you’re driving too fast,” McIlnail said. “When it’s pointed out that the children shouldn’t be there, they say they have every right to have their kids riding in the alley.”
Winegar said the sheriff’s office will have a community meeting, but a date has not been set. The association also has been exploring some possible options to fix the problem, such as paving a lane for children to ride their vehicles on around the playground. No solution has been finalized.
“We’ve been trying to think outside the box a little bit,” Winegar said. “More suggestions have been received from residents; there are some things in play.”
This story was corrected to include the correct spelling of Aimee Winegar’s name and to more accurately reflect her statements. Winegar was commenting on the dispute, not her personal feelings about the issue.