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Pickleball noise drama reverberates in Reston with new project

A proposal to renovate the tennis courts at Barton Hill is drawing concerns from residents (Photo via Joan Azeka/Unsplash)

Residents are sounding off about a proposal to renovate the Barton Hill tennis courts in Reston.

Concerns about noise management dominated a March 22 community meeting where staff offered an update on the project, which would convert some tennis courts into six permanent pickleball courts.

Megan Murphy, a mom of two who moved from Rosslyn to Reston for the calm of the latter’s more suburban environment, said the pickleball court could compromise the quietness she desired for her 5-year-old child, who has special needs.

“I’m so excited for all the pickleball players that you have found your passion, that you found your love, that you’ve got something that’s getting you out there and active and social,” Murphy said. “But I think we need to be really careful and not just footstep all of the concerns that people have expressed.”

Concerns about the noisiness of the popular sport have mounted nationwide. Earlier this year, the Town of Vienna cut restricted pickleball hours at Glyndon Park due to noise complaints. Over in Arlington, the sport has fueled warring flier campaigns between neighbors and lawsuit threats.

The tennis courts on the west side of the facility at 1901 Barton Hill Road would have blended lines to allow additional courts as needed, and dividers would separate pickleball and tennis courts.

Both parking lots will be repaved, and drainage improvements are planned at the southeast corner of the site. The project is currently in the early phases of planning and scoping. Construction could begin later this year, depending on the approval process.

Chris Schumaker, Reston Association’s director of capital projects, said a noise study at the Autumnwood pickleball courts found that decibel levels did not exceed 60 or 100 beyond 150 feet of the facility. The March 9 study was done during peak afternoon play when all pickleball and hybrid courts were at capacity, according to RA.

The sound for pickleball ranges from 57 to 79 decibels, depending on proximity and the type of equipment used. That is 25 decibels more than a tennis racket hitting a ball, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Schumaker also noted that scheduling for pickleball and nearby soccer events can be staggered to reduce the chances of overflow into the street.

“What we did did is a preemptive measure to kind of see what we are dealing with from a data standpoint,” Schumaker told residents.

Laura David, a local resident, said she was concerned the “wonderful enthusiasm” of pickleball players would attract crowds, teams waiting for a turn, and significant noise in a natural habitat ravine near the property, which has a neighborhood in roughly 1,000 feet of the courts.

“There’s no way parking and traffic will be safe for our kids on bikes, for our people walking dogs, and for the general appreciation of a Sunday morning 7 a.m. quiet cup of coffee on the deck of our back of our properties,” David said.

In response to reservations about the safety of an adjacent crosswalk where turning vehicles are faced with a blind side, Schumaker emphasized that any changes would require VDOT approval and are not part of the project.

Rob Richardson, a player and local resident, said it was important to acknowledge that the scenario of having 24 players on the court and 24 waiting for their turn may only occur during peak hours. But he also conceded that “no one wants pickleball in their backyard,” and he might be opposed if it was in his.

Others voiced concerns about tension between tennis and pickleball players in the hybrid facility.

“The pickleball/tennis battle…can get nasty and contested,” resident Renee Shipe said. She suggested that RA implement a possible reservation system or process improvements to help enforce rules and regulations.

RA CEO Mac Cummins said the current plans are preliminary, and the feedback may inform future changes.

“Part of our job is to hear you all tonight and report back tot he board and make the final financial decision,” Cummins said.

Photo via Joan Azeka/Unsplash

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