(Updated at 10:30 a.m. on 2/6/2024) After more than a year of impassioned and often acrimonious public testimony, Reston Association will drop plans for pickleball courts as part of the renovation of Barton Hill’s tennis courts.
At a meeting on Jan. 25, the RA Board of Directors voted to remove pickleball courts from the scope of the renovation, which had inspired passionate testimony from both pickleball lovers and neighboring residents concerned about safety, security, parking and the noise associated with the burgeoning sport.
Board director Jennifer Jushchuk, who proposed removing pickleball from the renovation, said she was impressed by the level of public engagement on the proposal.
“I feel like we’ve pitted members against members, and I don’t think that was ever the intention of the board that approved it,” she said, adding that she hopes RA can determine the scope of pickleball needs in the community.
“I just don’t think we got there with Barton Hill,” Jushchuk said.
Most board members said they were concerned about the disproportionate impact of pickleball on the surrounding community.
“I have to be sympathetic to the needs of the people who actually live in the community,” said director Travis Johnson.
Some of that debate continued at the Jan. 25 board meeting.
Residents like Laura David, who lives on Harper Square Court, pressed the board to look for more appropriate places for pickleball that wouldn’t disturb neighboring communities with noise.
“Let’s think outside of the original box we all had, which was to look at Barton Hill,” David said.
Others like Hayes McCarty, a Reston resident for more than 50 years, said RA’s board should take into account noise studies it commissioned that found average noise levels created by pickleball fall below limits enforced by Fairfax County’s noise ordinance.
“The association paid a lot of money for these studies. These people are experts, and I think we have to listen to what they have to say,” McCarty said.
As the plan moved through approval process, RA scaled back plans for pickleball at the facility, which currently consists of four unlit tennis courts built in 1985 at 1901 Barton Hill Road.
Last September, RA reduced its plan for the facility from six to four dedicated pickleball courts and two dedicated tennis courts, removing blended lines that would have allowed both tennis and pickleball uses. Now, all of the courts will be for tennis.
Some board members were dismayed with how the decision was rolled out.
Board director Margaret Perry said she wants RA to brainstorm alternatives for other pickleball locations before voting against its inclusion in Barton Hill. Her motion to delay the vote to the board’s March meeting did not gain traction, and she ultimately voted against removing pickleball from the project.
(Correction: This story initially said Margaret Perry voted for removing pickleball.)
Board president John Farrell said he was particularly concerned with how some board members justified nixing pickleball, noting that neighboring residents often have concerns about the addition of any new facility or program to the community.
“No way in hell am I going to give the neighbors a veto over serving the other 63,000 people [in Reston] and I’m disturbed that I heard some of my colleagues suggest that that’s the fundamental analysis,” Farrell said. “I hope that’s not the case.”
Reston Association is approaching a crossroads in its project to convert tennis courts at Barton Hill into pickleball courts.
The organization is now considering two potential designs for the facility at 1901 Barton Hill Road. One would replace two of the four existing tennis courts with 10 pickleball courts, including six dedicated courts and four with “blended lines” that could be shared with tennis players. The other would have four pickleball courts, all of them dedicated to the trendy sport.
Presented at a community meeting on Sept. 6, the second option was developed in response to noise concerns raised by community members in March, RA staff said.
However, Barton Hill residents remain skeptical of even the scaled-down proposal, according to a memo sent last week to RA and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
In addition to calling for advanced sound testing, residents say the courts lack “sufficient parking to accommodate the expected high demand” for pickleball. There are currently nine parking spaces for the tennis courts, including one ADA space, falling short of Fairfax County’s new two-spaces-per-court minimum requirement.
There are an additional 19 spaces on site to support the nearby soccer field, according to Bill Rountree, who wrote the letter as the self-identified “Barton Hill community spokesman.”
“It is our position that these are dedicated to soccer and may not be used to comply with County regulations,” Rountree wrote. “RA has no authority to declare such in the absence of a County determination.”
According to the letter, residents estimate that the proposed courts could draw as many as 40 players at a time, based on the reported usage of the four pickleball courts at Autumnwood, which currently has the only dedicated pickleball facilities in Reston.
“In light of this, we strongly urge RA to consider implementing an appointment reservation system to manage the parking situation effectively,” Rountree said.
A requested crosswalk on Barton Hill Road at Sunrise Valley Drive could further aggravate the situation, the letter said, citing a county prohibition on parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk.
On behalf of the community, Rountree expressed overall support for adding a crosswalk, which residents hope will address safety issues at that intersection. RA staff have submitted a request to VDOT asking it to review the proposed crosswalk. Read More
In response to concerns about noise, Reston Association has scaled back plans for pickleball courts at Barton Hill.
At a Sept. 6 community meeting, staff said they reduced the number of pickleball courts planned for the facility at 1901 Barton Hill Road from six to four and removed blended lines between tennis courts that allowed both tennis and pickleball uses.
The move was in response to concerns about increased noise from the pickleball facilities, according to Chris Schumaker, RA’s capital projects director.
RA conducted two types of noise studies on June 1 — one for continuous noise and one for instantaneous noise. In both cases, RA found that the average noise levels — measured in weighted decibels (dBAs) — were below the limits enforced by Fairfax County’s noise ordinance.
The average for continuous noise was 54 dBA, and the average for instantaneous or impulse noise was 57 dBA.
Staff also plan to install a sound attenuation product called Acoustiblok, a technology that could reduce decibels by 25 and 30 units.
“We feel pretty confident that we can mitigate the noise at Barton Hill,” RA Chief Operating Officer Peter Lusk said.
According to Schumaker, RA has submitted a request for the Virginia Department of Transportation to install a crosswalk over Barton Hill Road at the Sunrise Valley Drive intersection to address safety concerns.
The request was bolstered by a May 20 traffic study that found a high number of pedestrians using the crosswalk.
Staff also said that pickleball and soccer events could be staggered to limit impacts on the street.
RA’s Board of Directors will consider the project at its Sept. 28 meeting. The project will then go to the Design Review Board for review and approval, likely in November.
A contractor would be selected in February or March, depending on the board’s input. The contract will then head to the board for final approval after that point.
At the meeting, residents’ feedback fell on both sides of the fence. As pickleball has grown in popularity, concerns about the noisiness of the sport have mounted nationwide.
Laura David, who serves on the board of Reston’s Harpers Square Cluster, noted that the noise study took the average noise level from the center court and not from the boundary. She said that neighboring residents remain concerned about high levels of noise from the whacking of pickleballs.
“Sound still continues to be a major concern,” David said.
Others said RA should continue to support pickleball and asked for the original number of planned pickleball courts to be restored.
“There’s a shortage of [facilities]. There’s a real shortage,” said Reston resident Carol Dickey.
Some questioned if it made sense for RA to invest money in the project if it yielded only four pickleball courts.
“You’re talking like it’s something bad. It’s not,” said Carol Shepherd, a Reston resident of 46 years and a pickleball player.
Photo via Joan Azeka/Unsplash
Pickleball fever has officially taken hold at The St. James, a sports, entertainment and wellness club in Reston Town Center.
The Reston location will now offer two separate outdoor, turf rooftop areas with four pickleball courts, in addition to strength-building and cardio equipment. There will be more than 70 weekly group classes.
The company, which also has locations in Springfield and Bethesda, says the addition of its pickleball club demonstrates the company’s commitment to the community’s needs.
“Our mission at The St. James has always been to exceed the expectations of our members and provide them with world-class training opportunities for growth within sport and in life,” said David Hoye, general manager of The St. James Performance Club in Reston.
The club opened at 11951 Freedom Drive last year. The main facility in Springfield has an Olympic-sized swimming pool, field house, rock climbing wall and other recreational amenities. It also offers 50 group classes per week, sports leagues and numerous camps.
Court use is complementary for members, but non-member rates are $10 for drop-ins and $25 per court reservations.
Pickleball has evidently become a hot nighttime activity in the Town of Vienna.
Vienna police have issued six noise violations this year for players hitting the courts at Glyndon Park (300 Glyndon Street) after hours, according to the department.
The most recent issues were reported on Aug. 20 and 24, per the Vienna Police Department’s crime highlights for the week of Aug. 19-25:
Noise Violation 22-008587
300 Glyndon Street, NE
August 20 9:39 p.m.
A resident reported that people were playing pickleball on the tennis courts. The officer advised the people playing pickleball of the Park regulation.
Noise Violation 22-008719
300 Glyndon Street, NE
August 24 8:07 p.m.
A resident reported that people were playing pickleball on the tennis courts. The officer advised the people playing pickleball of the Park regulation that only tennis may be played on the courts after 8:00 p.m.
Four of the six violations involved different people, while two occasions involved the same participants, VPD spokesperson Juan Vazquez told FFXnow.
Glyndon Park’s two tennis courts were renovated so they could also be used as four pickleball courts in fall 2020. However, the park’s rules cut off pickleball play at 8 p.m., whereas tennis can continue until 10 p.m.
Noise has become a source of aggravation for some Vienna residents, whether from construction or outdoor dining, prompting the town council to agree in July to review the noise ordinance for the first time in a decade.
Fairfax County could designate different times and days for when tennis and pickleball players can use its shared courts.
That is one of the changes under consideration by the Fairfax County Park Authority after its board approved a pickleball study report in December that highlighted concerns about the two sports competing for limited court space.
“This information would be posted onsite and is aimed at reduced conflicts between players of both popular sports,” Park Authority spokesperson Judy Pedersen said by email.
Intended to gauge demand for new facilities and illuminate existing issues in the county, the pickleball study kicked off with an online survey in December 2020.
The survey ultimately drew over 1,800 responses, around 600 of which mentioned locations where people experienced conflict between pickleball use and another recreational activities, particularly tennis.
Respondents reported encountering often crowded courts, and one person recalled being told by a tennis player at Kemper Park in Oakton that the courts were for “tennis only,” even though the pickleball group had eight players.
In response to the sport’s growing popularity, Fairfax County has added 19 pickleball courts to existing tennis courts over the last 18 months. In November, two pickleball-only courts opened at Wakefield Park in Annandale.
With those additions, the FCPA now has 52 outdoor courts outfitted for pickleball, on top of six indoor courts in its recreation centers — a total similar to other similarly sized jurisdictions, according to the report.
However, the report also noted that the park authority has fewer facilities with six or more dedicated pickleball courts compared to other providers.
It recommended that the county create at least two pickleball-only facilities with at least six courts for large group drop-in play and tournaments, either by repurposing underutilized facilities or building new ones.
The FCPA is already looking at Lewinsville Park in McLean as a possible site for adding pickleball courts or converting the existing tennis courts into shared-use facilities.
Site constraints, the proximity of other facilities, and accessibility for populous areas in the county are among the factors that the county is taking into account when deciding potential court locations, according to Pedersen.
“Although we may potentially use park bond dollars in the future for the design and construction of pickleball-only facilities that could be used by larger groups, these projects would compete with the many other Park Authority projects, initiatives and capital needs of the entire park system,” Pedersen said.
Pickleball continues to grow in popularity, and Fairfax County is looking for ways to accommodate a rising demand for local, dedicated facilities.
A draft report that the county released last week highlights the conflict that pickleball has experienced with other recreational activities. It also provides strategies for how to minimize or eliminate problems when adding pickleball courts, especially in spaces shared with other sports like tennis and basketball.
“A key finding of the study was that the potential for conflict between sport courts exists when providing shared-use courts or repurposing courts to sports for which they were not initially constructed, such as tennis or basketball,” the report said.
People can comment on the draft report through Oct. 1 by email and phone and at a virtual meeting scheduled for next Tuesday (Sept. 14).
Based an online survey that Fairfax County Park Authority carried out from December 2020 to January 2021, the report says respondents have experienced conflicts with tennis players using available courts, thereby limiting their use for pickleball.
One person said conflict “is too strong a word, but [we] occasionally have to change plans when courts are already taken by tennis players.” Another person reported a tennis player saying the courts were for tennis only.
The county’s report says both tennis and pickleball got a boost across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as people sought activities that can be played while maintaining advised social distancing.
The number of tennis players increased 22% to 21.64 million in the U.S. from 2019 to 2020, according to the U.S. Tennis Association. Meanwhile, pickleball grew 21.3% to 4.2 million players during that same time frame, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
In the Fairfax County Park Authority’s survey, which generated over 1,800 responses, approximately 78% of people said they played pickleball in the last year, and most played a few times a week or month.
The county’s report said local participation in pickleball mirrors regional and national trends, and more publicly maintained courts have already started to emerge during the pandemic.
“In the 18 months prior to this report, 19 pickleball courts were added to existing tennis courts and the two pickleball-only courts were constructed, representing a 68 percent net increase in the number of pickleball courts,” the report noted.
In the report, county staff shared strategies for identifying where pickleball spaces could be added, either by constructing new courts dedicated solely for pickleball or by repurposing or sharing existing courts.
Park authority officials say that a 2024 park bond or other funding sources could assist with designing and constructing a pickleball-only facility that has at least six courts.
For transforming existing spaces into shared or dedicated courts for pickleball, the county points to a phased approach adopted by Montgomery County as a best practice “that has demonstrated success in the Washington, D.C. metro region.”
The process involves placing pickleball court lines on a court temporarily, observing the space for two to four weeks, and noting any conflicts or reported issues as well as player usage trends before either removing the temporarily lines or making them permanent for shared use with continued monitoring.
“Prior to the introduction of pickleball at a court, or prior to the removal of nonpickleball play at a court, decision makers should evaluate a facility’s current utilization, area service levels, and potential reasons for under-utilization such as demand, location, access, or maintenance,” the report said. “It is inappropriate to change the use of a court if such a change would result in a significant reduction of adopted service levels or conflicts between sports that cannot be minimized or mitigated.”
The report also found that Fairfax County is comparable to other areas in terms of the overall number of pickleball courts it provides per capita, but only two facilities are dedicated to pickleball, while 48 outdoor courts are shared with tennis players.
However, pickleball players here said the county didn’t offer enough opportunities to play the sport, such as courts dedicated solely to pickleball or groupings of pickleball courts to support many concurrent games, so county staff determined that one solution is to strategically locate pickleball courts together to better facilitate group and tournament play, Park Authority long range planning chief Ryan Stewart said in a statement.
As part of those concerns, many people still expressed dissatisfaction with how Fairfax County’s development of facilities compared to other jurisdictions.
“Of area jurisdictions, only Prince William County has, to date, provided purpose-built, dedicated pickleball courts. This eight-court facility was often cited in the public survey as players’ preferred venue,” the report said. “Montgomery Parks is currently converting its tennis courts at Bauer Lane Local Park to six pickleball-only courts with lighting.”
County staff said the report’s recommendations should be considered in conjunction with ongoing community engagement from participants, neighbors, and other stakeholders.
“The Park Authority has valued the contributions of the community of players and remains committed to ongoing dialog as these recommendations are implemented and as new opportunities emerge to address growing demand,” the report said.
The draft report stems from a formal review of pickleball players’ needs that the county launched in the summer of 2019. The county expects to finalize the report next month after the latest round of public comments, and the park authority board could approve it in November.
Photo via Lauren Bryan/Flickr