The discussion of the legalities of the recent pickleball court case, which saw the town and the NOTL pickleball Club convicted of breaking the town’s noise bylaw, was held behind closed doors Monday, but councillors have agreed to take some steps as a result of the closure of the Virgil Sports Park courts.
Town parks and recreation director Kevin Turcotte was planning on meeting with members of the pickleball club Tuesday, and said he would talk to them about alternative locations for courts.
The penalty imposed by the justice of the peace after convicting both the pickleball club and the town, in a decision read in court last Wednesday, was a fine for both of $1,000, and both were given a probation order for two years, that prevents them from committing a further breach of the noise bylaw.
The justice of the peace limited the extent of the probation order to apply only to pickleball at the Virgil Sports Park.
Last week, town CAO Marnie Cluckie told The Local “the town remains committed to exploring ways to mitigate noise at the pickleball courts. She said legal counsel and town staff would be discussing the next steps with town council. A closed session of council was held Monday, presumably to talk about those steps, including whether there would be an appeal of the decision.
Asked for clarification about whether the probation order closes down the courts for two years, or whether mitigating noise levels could allow it to reopen, Cluckie explained pickleball itself is not banned. The specific order coming from the court states that the town and pickleball club are placed on a probation order not to commit a further breach of the noise bylaw. “For now, the pickleball court remains closed until further notice while the town discusses its next steps and continues to explore ways to mitigate noise at the pickleball courts.”
A bylaw to amend the noise bylaw was before council and approved Monday.
The bylaw at the time of the October 2020 charge by a nearby neighbour of the court said “no person shall make, cause or permit sound or vibration at any time, which is likely to disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of the inhabitants of the town.” The bylaw is in force from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The neighbour said the noise from the paddle hitting the ball was extremely disturbing to her and impacting her quality of life.
The amended noise bylaw allows “any emission of sound or vibration” on town-owned property during those times, from sporting or recreational activities, as approved by the director of operations or delegate of the town, during those same hours.
John Hindle, president of the pickleball club, has said the club was not playing pickleball at the time of the complaint — it had not yet resumed play that was halted due to COVID.
He also told The Local there were several attempts made at compromise, between the town, the club and the resident who was disturbed by the noise, before it went to court.
When the town decided not to open the outdoor courts last spring until the court case was settled, many of the 250 members chose to continue playing at the community centre, paying $5 each time.
At Monday’s council meeting, Lord Mayor Betty Disero asked town staff to look into the availability of other spaces that could be used as pickleball courts, mentioning specifically the Croatian National Centre on Line 3, the Vineridge Academy gymnasium on Niagara Stone Road, and the former Virgil school building.
The town is paying for extra staff to make adapted courts at the Centennial Arena available for pickleball play, but club members are saying the cement floor is hard on their knees. Also, as Turcotte pointed out, putting the ice in is only a couple of months away.
He asked about the cost of offering alternate space, how much of that would be the responsibility of the town, and how much the responsibility of the club. Disero asked him to talk to club members about an alternative that would suit them best.
Disero also asked that staff look into how the sports park courts can be used by the public in the short term, such as volleyball or badminton. Other ideas were also put forward, but Turcotte reminded council the town has a significant investment in the court and its surface, and only “running shoe sports” should be considered to preserve it. Badminton would be a possibility, he said.