The nationwide face-off between pickleball enthusiasts and homeowners has arrived in the Town of Vienna.
In the hopes of quieting resident noise complaints, the town council is set to vote on Monday (Jan. 30) to reduce pickleball play to three days per week at the courts in Glyndon Park (300 Glyndon Street NE).
Currently available seven days a week, the four pickleball courts would open Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays under the proposal from the Vienna Parks and Recreation Department. The hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays would remain the same, but on Saturdays, they would end at 5 p.m.
Town staff recommended an 8 a.m. start time for Saturday, but at a conference session on Jan. 23 that saw some tense back-and-forth exchanges on both the dais and from the audience, a few council members suggested considering 9 a.m. instead, since kids might want to sleep in on the weekend.
“I don’t know that anybody is a hundred percent thrilled with this, but it is in my mind a compromise, and it’s something we can do right now,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.
Glyndon Park’s pickleball courts were welcomed with gusto by local players — including the mayor, who also partakes in tennis — when they opened in October 2020. With aid from the Vienna Pickleball Club, which paid for some of the equipment, the town added pickleball markings to the two existing tennis courts as part of a planned refurbishment.
However, players have run afoul of some nearby residents, who describe the sound of paddles hitting the plastic balls as “unbearable, loud and constant,” according to one comment in an October survey conducted by the parks department.
“The noise is unbearable,” wrote a resident of Jean Place NE, which is across the street from the courts. “The constant popping 12 hours a day 7 days a week is borderline torture. We cannot use our outdoor space anymore due to pickleball and cannot open our windows.”
The survey went to 34 households and received 17 responses, including seven from people who reported having no issues with pickleball. Parking and traffic complaints also came up, but Parks Director Leslie Herman said those “have been taken care of” with signage directing players to an overflow parking lot by the baseball diamonds.
Vienna isn’t alone in seeing clashes between homeowners and pickleball players. As the sport has grown in popularity over the past decade, so have the noise complaints, leading some communities to close courts and others to be taken to court — including in nearby Arlington County.
The sound level for pickleball is anywhere from 57 to 79 decibels, depending on proximity and the type of equipment used. That’s 25 decibels higher than a tennis racket hitting a ball, according to the Los Angeles Times.
People talking can also contribute to the noise levels, Councilmember Ray Brill said, recalling a visit to Glyndon Park where he saw dozens of people at the courts who weren’t playing.
“I love exercising, and I love playing sports outdoors, but we have neighbors we have to be considerate of,” Brill said. “There’s no shortcuts, so we have to compromise. We have to allow people to play, but they have to take steps to reduce the noise.”
Building off of the resident survey, the parks department asked both pickleball and tennis players to weigh in on the potential schedule change presented to the council, along with the option to eliminate weekends.
Sixty-five of the 85 players who responded favored keeping weekend play, but many criticized the survey as “restrictive” and “ridiculous,” arguing that pickleball playing at a public park shouldn’t be restricted beyond the town’s noise ordinance rules.
“The sport is rapidly growing in popularity,” a Park Street resident said. “The Town should be making an effort to accommodate that growth. The proposal reflected in the survey is a step in the wrong direction.”
Respondents suggested the town plant trees to create a sound barrier or develop more pickleball facilities to alleviate the demand at Glyndon, among other options.
Council members sounded skeptical of noise curtains and split on providing quieter balls and paddles. Colbert volunteered to buy a “silent” paddle and foam balls to test their effectiveness, though the council questioned if players would agree to use the alternative equipment and how that would be enforced.
In addition to supporting reservations at Meadow Lane Park, which has a shared tennis/pickleball court, some members were receptive to at least evaluating whether to add pickleball courts at the former Faith Baptist Church while the town decides what to do with the property long-term.
According to Herman, the pickleball courts could be 230 feet from the closest residence. The Glyndon courts are just 72 feet away from the nearest property line, Brill said, based on a measurement he took that morning.
This spring, the town will conduct a parks master plan review that will include a look at its pickleball needs, similar to the study undertaken by Fairfax County in 2021.
“Then a complete study’s done on it as part of the park master plan…and it would be based off of making sure that we’re keeping in consideration how far they’re being built from residents’ homes,” Herman said.
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