'Backyard Tennis Club' in Wise County ordered shut down

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on September 13, 2013 at 10:54 PM

Updated Saturday, Sep 14 at 2:19 PM

NEWARK — Roger Williams looks around and smiles, taking in what he's built in his backyard.

"It's just a joy," he said. "This has been my dream. And it's come true."

He calls himself a tennis coach who is a life coach, too.

"You know, you won't hear cussing. There's no drinking," he said. "It's just good, pure, clean fun."

Williams lives in an upscale subdivision in the small Wise County city of Newark. The homes are not close to each other. Each resident has a lot of land.

And from the street, what's behind Williams' home is hidden.

It's the "Backyard Tennis Club."

On a $90,000 professional-looking tennis court, Roger Williams offers private lessons and classes on weekends and evenings.

"It's all word of mouth. There's not one advertisement, I don't have a sign," he said. "We're just here. And we're not bothering anybody."

At least, he thought he wasn't.

This summer, Williams received a letter from a lawyer telling him his tennis lessons are out of bounds. After five years, the Newark City Council is ordering Williams to shut down, claiming he's violating a city zoning ordinance prohibiting home business.

"When we first started this, I walked out here with the then-mayor and I said, 'This is my dream, I'm building a tennis court.' He goes, 'You've got my blessing. As long as it doesn't cost the city anything, I think it's great,'" Williams said. "So that's how it started and I never have heard anything about ordinances until now."

He said, "they need to grandfather me in, because they didn't come up with this stuff until I had my court here and my lights up."

The letter that was sent in July ordered Williams to shut down within 24 hours.

"No one came and talked to me, no one said a word to me," he said. "I received a letter from a lawyer stating tomorrow at 5 you are out of business."

He stopped his lessons for a week, while he took his concerns to city council. The city gave him two "stays," during which he says he offered compromises: offering to turn the lights off before 9 p.m. each night, and ensure there's never more than than ten cars parked in the paved lot he built after one neighbor complained about parking.

But those compromises were not accepted, he said.

The neighbor who complained happens to be one of the city council members rejecting the compromise, Williams said.

That neighbor, Bob Wells, did not want to say much about the issue but said the dispute isn't personal. When asked if he would have a problem with the backyard court even if he didn't live next door, he replied, "Absolutely. Absolutely."

The neighbors who live on the other side bring their three children over for lessons.

"There's not a whole lot in this area for kids, and most things we are driving pretty far, so it's nice for them to have something close to do," Jenny Thornell said. Her husband is a principal who wrote a letter to the city council supporting the Backyard Tennis Club.

Williams said he doesn't want to, but if he has to, he'll fight for his court in a court of law.

"I learned to play tennis, football, basketball, and swim in a park, and I learned how to stand up to bullies in a park," he said. "And I'm not gonna tell these kids they can't play tennis anymore. I can't do it, and I'm not going to."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

 

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