Pickleball players are using the indoor court at the Centennial Arena, and are happy for the opportunity to play. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s an option for those who were anxious for the outdoor pickleball season to start. Several players were testing the new courts, and while the demarcations on the arena floor are great, they said the surface is hard on the body, and they all agreed they’d rather be outside.
As one player said, pickle ball is a great sport not only for seniors, but for those with knee problems, back issues, and arthritis, ant the arena floor is not kind to them.
The outdoor courts in the Virgil Sports Park have been closed due to a noise bylaw infraction that went to court to be settled last week. They are expected to stay closed until the court issues a decision on the matter, expected mid-June.
The court hearing was the result of one neighbour to the sports park saying the town and the pickleball club broke the town’s noise bylaw, which outlaws sounds that could “disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of the inhabitants of the town.”
Members understand that all are trying to find solutions to get players back outside, said one of the club members in the arena Saturday, and agree that recreational facilities in NOTL should include pickleball courts, for what was described as “the most sought-after sport in town.”
The issue dealt with at court last Wednesday is whether the courts should be relocated, says John Hindle, president of the NOTL Pickleball Club. There was an attempt at mediation, with compromises offered, but not accepted, he said — the complainant is only interested in seeing the club moved away from its current location.
It’s difficult to know if there are many other neighbours who feel the same way.
“Almost without exception, what we hear is people support the club and the benefits it offers, but people are also trying to be sensitive to a unique situation,” Hindle said.
Of the many comments on social media over the last week, most said they believe people should be able to play pickleball in a public park, and from the tone of the comments, those who might find the sound annoying would not likely want to speak up, for fear of the backlash they would receive.
Hindle said he has seen similar cases in the media from other areas in the country, and in one case, the courts were moved to a different location in the same park. However in that case it was people playing on adapted tennis courts, unlike Virgil, where the town went to great expense to convert tennis courts to pickleball in 2019, in response to the growth of the sport.
Building a sound barrier to the necessary height would be impractical, and would spoil the view for other residents, Hindle said. “The club was willing to negotiate on a variety of fronts, including reducing the hours.” But in addition to the repetitive noise of the racket hitting the ball, more so than tennis, the complainant said pickleball players “are more boisterous and noisy.”
Hindle says the day the complaint was made, the pickleball club was not operating, due to COVID, but the courts were open, with the code for the lock on the gate on the town’s website available to the public, so others could use the courts.
The argument was made that the club was therefore responsible, although the code, Hindle said, “was widely available.”
There was some discussion at the provincial court over whether noise level standards could be applied to public parks, and this week there was a discussion at council over a motion to amend the town’s noise bylaw related to “sporting or recreational activities.”
Although a discussion about a noise bylaw infraction was held in a closed session, council dealt with a request to amend the bylaw as it referred to sound on town-owned properties arising from sporting or recreational activities, as approved by the director of operations or delegate for the town.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor objected to the amendment, interpreting it as “blanket approval on sound in any of our parks, without considering the impact,” and said the town would not be doing its due diligence to the placement of new and noisier activities close to residents.
She said she thought any change to the noise bylaw should wait until the town receives the verdict “on the legal action that everybody knows is going on here. I think it’s premature.”
Coun. Claire Cameron agreed, saying she thinks it’s hypocritical of the town to pass the motion “writing ourselves out of any potential noise bylaw provisions,” while in other areas restricting noise. “That just doesn’t seem fair.” The motion, she said, “makes it seem like it’s a resident’s problem if they are bothered by noise, whereas really it’s our problem.”
She asked how the town would be anticipating the potential impacts of noise on residents who may have signed up for a certain living situation, that could change “quite drastically because of the fitness trend. I think also it’s important that this is not just about pickleball. We’ve had another repetitive noise issue, not that went to prosecution, but there have been complaints about the skatepark too, which is a wonderful facility, and yet has impacted some residents is some way.” She too felt the timing is off, with the legal action before the courts.
Council first voted on a motion to defer the amendment to the noise bylaw, which failed on a tie vote, and then voted on the amendment, which also failed on a tie.
NOTL Tennis Club president Hugh Dow, weighing in on the noise issue in recreational spaces, said he is sympathetic to the situation at the pickleball courts. Though the same area once housed tennis courts, “those were public courts and were not linked to the tennis club,” he said.
Dow added he is not aware of any previous noise complaints levelled at tennis players there.
“It’s too bad, because it’s certainly another venue for people to participate in outdoor activities,” he told The Local. “I really don’t know a lot about the complaint. It is a distinctive noise, though, that can be a factor, there’s no question about it.