Thursday, July 31, 2008

Against Code, Boy's Play Area In Jeopardy

(WCCO) The family of a boy who has autism is fighting to keep something that seems pretty basic: a place to play.

"The deck was put up here to provide my son, who has autism, a safe play area," said Matt Foote of Paynesville, Minn.

According to Stearns County officials, the deck may have to come down because it was built without a permit, but the Foote family isn't removing the deck without a fight.

"You hear him out here like with his little squirrels, and he'll go inside and get his stuffed animals and he'll bring a blanket out and with his play grill -- he'll cook 'em food," said Matt Foote about his son Alex who has autism.

Five-year-old Alex doesn't know that he and his backyard friends might have to find another place to play. His parents say it wouldn't be safe for him to wander in the yard that backs up to Rice Lake.

"So if he were to have an open play area in the grass, the fear would be the lake," said Matt Foote.

Stearns County officials didn't want to comment on the case but they did say that the Foote family did not get a permit, and that the deck violates the state setback rule of 100 feet.

"When you step up, if it's less than 12 inches from the ground, you don't need a permit to build. There is not a permit to build until it becomes a deck," said Matt Foote.

"Well, unbenounced to us when the plans were drawn up, they we were always referred to it as a deck. Stearns County was referring to it as a patio. This patio became a deck when we put the railings up," he said.

The county did offer a compromise -- move the deck to the other side of the house. But there are no windows for the parents to watch Alex. The family was also told they could build a small, enclosed gazebo.

"That's tantamount to putting him in a dog kennel. Would you want to put your kid in a dog kennel? I mean 'here son, you can go play but you're stuck in here," said Matt Foote.

The family is appealing the county's decision and will be in court on August 21.

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