Wellesley residents worn out from the pop-pop-pop of pickleballs at nearby courts compare the sound to everything from constantly dripping water to metronomes to the beep-beep-beep of a garbage truck backing up…all…day…long. They rose early to speak at an 8am Recreation Commission hearing on the subject on Friday (watch Wellesley Media recording), as commissioners weigh public input on how to best manage a growing controversy that pits pickleball players vs. those who live near the courts. Deliberation on the matter by the town body will take place at its next meeting at a date to be determined.
The Swellesley Report has been reporting on the rise of pickleball in town since 2018, including the push by enthusiasts for more places to play, the issue of tennis vs. pickleball, and the increase in noise complaints (including to the police). Dozens have weighed in on the pickleball noise issue as well on our Facebook page this week when we posted the notice about the hearing. The sweet sound of controversy in Wellesley has predictably lured the Boston Globe and local TV news stations to amplify coverage, though as the Los Angeles Times wrote this week, “Pickleball noise is fueling neighborhood drama from coast to coast.”
The town has responded to increased demand by players over the past few years by offering more indoor options at the Rec Center as well as by painting pickleball lines on existing tennis and basketball courts in town on land overseen by the Natural Resources Commission and School Committee. Now the town might rethink some of its court placements and hours in light of public feedback both from pickleball players and neighbors.
The first of about a dozen people to speak at the hearing was Kerry Sullivan, who said she and her husband bought their house that abuts Perrin Park back in the 1970s. Uses of the park have changed over the years from having a school to hosting youth sports and gatherings of dog owners, and Sullivan said she and her husband have adapted their schedules to deal with the noise, “knowing weekends will be a ‘no’ for outdoor use of our yard.” While the sound of youth activities isn’t a nuisance, Sullivan said pickleball is, as “a high impact noise approaching 90 decibels.” They’ve added expensive windows and blown in insulation in an effort to lessen the noise while indoors, and avoid the noisiest times outside, though that interferes with their main hobby of gardening.
Others, including those living near the courts at Sprague Field, shared similar frustration with the noise, which they said affects their health, including stress levels and concentration. John Smitka, who lives near the Sprague courts, asked the commission to consider the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I would say that there is no one who would want 4 pickleball courts in their neighbor’s yard…”
Though some pickleball proponents cited a notion that we’ve heard regarding other controversies in town that pit neighbors vs. new uses of public land—you “chose” to live near a park, what did you expect? Even though, of course, plenty of people “chose” where they live based on what they can afford or for other reasons, and anyone but the newest of residents would not have anticipated the emergence of pickleball noise. Neighbors say the difference between the sound of tennis and pickleball is huge, in part because pickleball is played in a smaller area and the ball is hit more often, and in part because tennis balls are much softer. Some proponents say the happy sounds of players laughing and chatting evens things out.
One resident suggested the complaints about pickleball could be seen as exclusionary for older people who have gravitated to pickleball, though 1 player noted that pickleball is attracting players of all ages—she cited a Babson College student dropping in for a game at the Rec Center recently.
Kenna Juliani said she and her husband have embraced the pickleball community that has emerged in town, and lauded the Sprague courts for how they are maintained and for the ample parking. “We cannot live in a noise-free town,” she said, as a train zipped by her house. She also made suggestions for alternatives, including moving pickleball the the Sprague courts further from the townhouses and adding pickleball courts at Hunnewell field (the Rec Commission has said in the past that there could be issues with this based on the high school tennis teams’ use of these courts).
Others coming from a place of compromise also urged the town to consider other possible court locations that will have less impact on neighbors. One speaker repeated a suggestion she made at an earlier meeting that the commission check out Westborough’s outdoor courts, which are built away from homes. Several mentioned the possibility of locating courts at the Morses Pond parking lot.
In other communities, such as Natick, their main outdoor pickleball court has posted hours for tennis vs. pickleball to maintain some balance. The commission has also explored the concept of using special fencing to block sound, though noted this could cost tens of thousands of dollars, and does have some limitations on effectiveness.
Recreation Commission Chair Paul Cramer said at the end of the meeting “all options are on the table,” and invited the public back when the commission deliberates on the matter. We wouldn’t put it past the commission to come up with a good solution to sound mitigation. After all, the group showed creativity in muting speakers once they hit the 3-minute mark.
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