In response to residents’ complaints about loud popping sounds of pickleballers swatting plastic balls, the city closed three of the center’s six pickleball courts for the winter.
When area pickleball players and near neighbors of the Water Tower Recreation Center met online for a virtual meeting Thursday evening, only one thing was certain about Chestnut Hill’s contentious sports saga. There is no cheap, easy or quick solution to the problem.
In response to residents’ complaints about loud popping sounds of pickleballers swatting plastic balls, the city closed three of the center’s six pickleball courts for the winter. The three courts are scheduled to reopen in March, according to Keith Kunz, president of the Water Tower Recreation Center Advisory Council. In the meantime, pickleball players are coping with the limited number of courts, but they’d prefer to have all six.
“Everybody is very congenial and very polite and friendly and we've become a really nice community,” said player Margaret Shapiro, commenting on the pickleball court reduction. “So everybody just takes turns. And it works because we make it work,” she said.
The cheapest solution appears to be lining the court with Acoustifence, a sound-dampening material that attaches to the existing cyclone fence. It is supposed to eliminate 50 percent of the sound frequency that comes off the paddle and the ball. The cost? A whopping $28,000, Kunz said.
“It's not cheap,” Kunz said. “To do the three sections of fence along the Winston side, the Ardleigh side and the Hartwell side is about $28,000 without shipping or anything,” he said.
Kunz said he’s still waiting to hear back with a price quote from Acoustiblok, a competitor to Acoustifence.
“Before we go ahead with this,” he said, “I want to find out which material is better and which one is going to work more in our favor for both sides.”
In the meantime, stakeholders discussed putting up a sign requesting that pickleball players use specially-made pickleballs and paddles that are designed to decrease noise. However, even community leaders were skeptical about how effective a sign would be, given that there’d be no way to enforce it.
“There's not going to be a pickleball police officer out there to make them do it,” said City Councilmember Cindy Bass, who was on the call. “But I think that we should at least ask respectfully [for] people to be considerate of the neighbors and to use the quieter balls and paddles,” she said.
Another alternative discussed was to swap the locations of the pickleball courts with the far tennis courts so the pickleball courts would be further away from the houses on Ardleigh Street. But that potential solution was a bit cost-prohibitive, Kunz said. The cost would be about $250,000 - and it's unclear how effective it would be in reducing the noise.
Some neighbors expressed their frustration with pickleballers, including neighbor Jan LeSuer, who took issue with the letters to the editor some pickleball players wrote to the Local, most of which took issue with the Local’s characterization of the sport as being for older people, but not about the controversy with neighbors itself.
“[In] the letters that went into the Local that were pro-pickleball, there was not a smidgen, not an iota, not a scintilla of sympathy for the neighbors,” he said, “It was really offensive, the arrogance that has been shown by the pickleball players.”
However, many pickleball players, some whom were on the call and others who spoke to the Local privately, expressed their desire for a peaceful relationship with the neighbors.
“I really empathize with you living near those courts and hearing it for so many hours a day,” said pickleball player, Amy Steffen. “It may not appear that we care about that because we're just going out and playing, but we certainly do care about the neighbors' experience. So that's very important, and I hope we can find a solution,” she said.
Shapiro echoed Steffen’s sentiment in a video call with the Local on Wednesday.
“We are wanting to come to some understanding with the neighbors,” Shapiro said. “We are wanting to continue playing pickleball, but we also don't want them to be uncomfortable,” she said,
Shapiro called the pickleball courts “a wonderful resource for Chestnut Hill.”
Pickleballer Sarah Whitman told the Local that one of the great things about Chestnut Hill’s pickleball community is that there’s no need to organize meetups.
“You just go and play with whoever is there,” she said, “and people are very welcoming, very friendly. You mix in.”
But the constant presence of pickleballers at the court is precisely what has neighbors so bothered.
“There's baseball games, sure, but those are for a couple hours on a Saturday,” said neighbor Sarah Bettien-Ash. “[Pickleball] starts at eight in the morning. People are standing out there waiting and talking before eight because they're so excited to play, which is fantastic. It really is. It's not that it's not great. It's just not great 14 feet from our home.”
Several pickleball players told the Local that there aren’t many quality pickleball courts in the area besides those at Water Tower.
There are courts in Horsham and courts at the Montgomery County Recreation Center, but those courts, like others, are either not as good, too far away, or are private facilities that people have to pay to use, players said.
“There are some wonderful courts up in Horsham/Hatboro, but that's a good 25-minute drive,” said Pickleballer Marilyn Paucker, “Nothing is as good as the Water Tower.”