Chesterton Tribune

 

 

In the line of fire: Neighbors fed up with Brassie golf balls damaging property

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By LILY REX

Four Liberty Township residents say the netting that’s supposed to protect their houses from stray golf balls from the Brassie Golf Club is inadequate. They have 20 years’ worth of complaints, damage, near misses, and buckets of golf balls to show for it, and they say local officials could be doing more to protect their property rights and their safety.

The Brassie Golf Club, which is half in the Town of Chesterton and half in unincorporated Porter County in the area of 1100N and Pearson Road, was built in 1998. At the time, the four residents who spoke to the Chesterton Tribune had already lived in their homes on Pearson Road for years. There was no protective netting until 2000, when Brassie was awarded a variance from the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals to erect a 40-foot tall net along Pearson Road.

Evelyn Komenas, David and Kim Evans, and Paul Pugh reported the net helped, but didn’t stop stray golf balls from Brassie’s driving range from flying onto their properties. Brassie came under new management, by a company called PMM Chesterton LLC, in 2012. Since the change, the residents report Brassie is continually unresponsive to their complaints.

Komenas reported she has two five-gallon buckets nearly full of golf balls. Evans has over 200 golf balls that have come into his yard just in the past three years.

The residents get damage ranging from dented garage doors and dents in parked cars to broken siding, broken windows, and broken outdoor lights. The damage has been documented in multiple police reports and in a small claims suit.

The residents said they don’t feel safe in their own yards, and they’ve all had near misses. They also noted that anyone walking or driving along Pearson Road is susceptible.

Kim Evans said she once saw Pugh’s niece have a near miss while playing in Pugh’s yard. “It would have killed her if it hit her in the head,” Evans said. “They come through the trees like missiles.”

Evans was extra disturbed after hearing about a recent golf ball death--a six-year old girl was killed by a stray golf ball on a course in Utah last month.

The group thinks a higher net that extends farther north or changing the layout or location of the driving range could help, but Brassie’s Golf Pro is unresponsive and staff who have answered their calls give a range of excuses, though past management was willing to work with them.

“The biggest thing is, if they really can’t change the course, they need to take responsibility for the actions,” Pugh said. Evans replied that he’s “way beyond that.” Komenas said, “I’m tired of sitting in the house all day. I want that net higher and farther down.”

“I want the freedom to use my property. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” Komenas added.

Who’s responsible?

Brassie Attorney Chris Yugo said it’s his position, and “the majority rule” that the golfer who hit the ball is responsible for damages. Porter Superior Court Judge Michael Drenth disagreed July 1 when he ordered Brassie to pay approximately $570 in damages to reimburse Komenas for work done on a broken outdoor light and window.

Yugo denied knowledge of a pattern of complaints/damage and said no mention was made of that history when Brassie came under new ownership. Yugo said he understands Komenas’ house was damaged, and a court ordered a settlement, but said “I’m not sure what we should do about that other than apologize and pay the damages.”

Yugo said Brassie intends to pay the $570 in damages, though he doesn’t agree with the ruling. The damages were supposed to be paid by July 31. Komenas reported Brassie has dragged their feet in paying.

When asked if the golfers are made aware of Brassie’s position on liability before they use the facilities, Yugo said he had “no idea.”

One regular Brassie golfer told the Tribune that he has never been informed by the Brassie that golfers bear liability, nor has the Brassie posted signage saying so in the clubhouse, pro shop, or driving range. This reporter also observed the lack of signage.

Porter County Code Enforcer Joey Larr said golf ball damage is “strictly a civil matter,” and the County has “no ordinances or codes that are specific to a golf course.”

Larr, however, knows of a similar case in Valparaiso. A number of cars traveling Harrison Boulevard have been hit by stray drives from Forest Park’s 14th hole. Forest Park is owned by the Valparaiso Parks Department, and they take no responsibility for the damage, according to Larr.

“It’s an issue between the person on the golf course who hit the golf ball that hit the vehicle and the owner of the vehicle,” Larr said, adding that a golfer’s homeowners insurance might cover such damage.

Yugo said members of the public are welcome to enter Brassie through the regular entrance and go to the driving range to look for a golfer who may have caused property damage, despite the boundaries of the driving range being peppered with “No Trespassing” signs.

When asked if Brassie is concerned about stray drives posing a safety concern, Yugo said he couldn’t comment on something that may or may not become a problem. “If it becomes a serious problem, we would certainly discuss it. We want to be good neighbors,” he said.

Larr, for his part, said he was glad Komenas succeeded in court, and he thinks the change in Brassie’s management is part of the problem.

What has been done?

The residents understand damage is a civil matter, but they think the safety element should concern local officials, and they say they’ve gotten nowhere after contacting everyone they can think of.

Komenas and Evans said they’re told to either get a lawyer or that local officials’ hands are tied. “They say they can’t tell a business how to operate, but it’s not a clothing store. These are things that can hurt people,” Komenas said. “We’ve all almost been hit,” she added.

David Evans is dumbfounded by the lack of action. “I don’t know why my tax money goes to their salaries, and they say, ‘It’s not my problem,’” Evans said. “I can’t think of a single local politician who would want to live in this environment, but they will not go to bat for us.”

North County Commissioner Jim Biggs said the problem isn’t that the County won’t go to bat for them, but that the County has no authority. Biggs said he consulted the County Attorney, the County Plan Commission, and Larr about the stray golf balls and found, “We simply don’t have any rules against it.” He also reported he tried speaking directly to Brassie’s former Golf Pro when Komenas first reached out to him in 2016, and was basically told “Go pound sand.”

The residents said current Golf Pro Andrew Soley is “always at the post office or the bank” when they call and doesn’t return messages. Larr said he put in calls to Soley to facilitate communication with the residents. Soley never returned his calls, either.

This reporter got in contact with Soley, who declined to comment. Yugo, however, denied that the Brassie is unresponsive and said he thought Soley spoke with the residents. Yugo, however, said he did not have personal knowledge of or participate in those phone calls or meetings.

When asked if the Brassie has made any more recent changes to reduce the chance of damage from stray drives, Yugo said, “The driving range has been turned more into the property,” though he couldn’t recall when that was done.

Yugo said the Brassie doesn’t rule out future changes but said County Code prevents Brassie from using larger nets--in spite of the fact that Brassie has secured a variance before.

Chesterton Town Engineer Mark O’Dell called Brassie recently because of the complaints and was directed to their attorney. The north half of Brassie is inside Chesterton Town limits, but the Town has no authority over the driving range, which is in unincorporated Liberty Township.

O’Dell reported, however, that the Town isn’t looking to simply pass the buck, and the Chesterton Town Attorney will look into whether or not the Town can intervene.

What can be done?

How do municipalities define the difference between a public nuisance or a public safety hazard and the incidental result of a business activity? When do the incidental consequences of a business activity constitute a public safety hazard or nuisance? According to several local officials, there’s no clear answer.

Biggs, for his part, said stray golf balls can’t be treated as a public safety hazard until it’s proven they pose a threat, i.e., someone gets hit, because the law doesn’t work in hypotheticals. Though, Biggs did agree that regulations are supposed to anticipate problems and offer solutions.

Larr said he couldn’t provide a clear answer when asked at what point an issue like stray golf balls graduates from being strictly a civil matter to a public safety hazard or nuisance.

O’Dell said petitioners who apply for building permits must show their development won’t be “detrimental to neighboring properties,” but added that enforcing regulations meant to curb nuisances and safety hazards gets tricky when there’s no malice involved: “Is it a nuisance, or is it just an accident? That’s what’s hard to determine.”

Biggs offered that he would bring the issue up at the next Board of Commissioners meeting, Tuesday, Sept 3. at 10 a.m.

Biggs said he’s open to creating an ordinance that better defines when a problem such as this one becomes a public safety hazard/nuisance, but he’d first have to find out if it would be enforceable. “I don’t want to create an ordinance that will give these residents false hope that it’s going to solve this, and then it doesn’t solve the problem because it has no teeth,” Biggs said.

 

Posted 8/29/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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