Wellesley’s Recreation Commission and the consultancy hired to help address the town’s pickleball challenges last week held a public hearing to inform a study and survey that could pave the way for new courts in town. Members of the public did a good job keeping their comments and questions brief and generally avoiding repetition, while Rec officials did their best to answer questions on the fly. A lot was packed into the nearly 2-hour Jan. 22 hearing, which attracted 80-plus people (see Wellesley Media recording to review the meeting and related documents on the town website).
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The meeting last week followed Special Town Meeting approval this past fall for $70K to be used for a pickleball study that includes defining criteria for courts that meet players needs without disturbing neighbors or the environment, and determining the feasibility of courts in various places. Ubiquitous consultancy Weston & Sampson has been hired to orchestrate public outreach and research in prepping a report on the matter. One thing it shared during its presentation was an overview of possible court costs.
An aggressive timeline by the Recreation Commission could result in Wellesley Annual Town Meeting being asked this spring to approve funding for feasible indoor or outdoor courts identified in the report. As Rec Commission Chair Paul Cramer said during the meeting, some in town “would like action on this yesterday.” Some 1,500 pickleball court reservations were made in town last year between April and October.
Members of the public made comments and asked questions, with topics ranging from legal ones (nuisance laws… yes, Wellesley’s counsel is being kept in the loop) to logistical ones (stick a bunch of courts in one spot, with the understanding you might attract a bunch of people from out of town, or sprinkle courts throughout town, if the aim is to mainly serve locals). Wellesley pickleball player Frank Westerhoff said in considering the number and location of courts in town, Wellesley needs to think about how to “define just what we want pickleball to look like in Wellesley at least at this point in time.” To that point, the town was urged by some to ensure pickleball remains accessible and affordable to all even as indoor clubs might emerge, like the one coming to the Natick Mall.
Resident Kerry Sullivan shared her hope that the town’s pickleball study would explore possible court locations beyond the usual suspects of existing basketball courts or parks. She ticked off the North 40, Upham Elementary School land (with the school soon closing), the Morses Pond area, DPW sites on Rte. 9, and Recycling & Disposal Facility property as places to explore. “Maybe with a little creativity, something can be done with those,” she said, also asking about whether the real driver for the town’s decision will be the larger number of pickleball players or the smaller number of affected neighbors.
Thinking even further outside the box, Wellesley resident Erin Reilly suggested introducing badminton, with its quiet feathered shuttlecocks, as a possible stopgap sport that could still bring community together while decisions are being made.
Neighbors concerned about noise sought assurance that the town would study any prospective pickleball court sites for sound, and Sprague courts neighbor John Maccini cited Falmouth’s recent decision not to build courts at a park following results of a noise study.
The meeting attracted those from within Wellesley, as well as from neighboring towns. This included a very busy local coach from Natick as well as a USA Pickleball ambassador, who urged Wellesley to sync up with other communities in making its decisions. The ambassador, Jim Acton of Natick, pointed out that Weston has new outdoor courts slated to come online in the spring, for example. “There doesn’t seem to be a regional look at pickleball, and I don’t fault the rec departments, they’re flat out with what pickleball has going on, but I do think you need to figure that out,” he said.
Disclosure: I’ve not played pickleball, but have been recruited numerous times. I’ve purchased a set, which remains unopened since Christmas of 2022.