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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2019 11 months ago

Commissioners agree with residents on pickleball

Longboat leaders back plan to convert Bayfront Park tennis courts to six or eight permanent pickleball courts.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The pickleball people have spoken.

And they aren’t supportive of a Longboat Key consultant’s proposal to build four pickleball courts adjacent to Public Tennis Center facilities on the western side of Bay Isles Road.

Backed by a flurry of emails to Town Hall, a petition signed by more than 260 pickleball enthusiasts, and the Rev. David Marshall of All Angels Episcopal Church, resident Fanny Younger told Town Commissioners on Monday that a better plan was to site six or eight pickleball courts in Bayfront Park in place of two hard-surface tennis courts.

Keeping the sport in one place would foster its social aspect, she said, and alleviate complaints about tennis lovers about the noise generated by the hard paddles and plastic balls. Parking would be better, too, Younger said.

While lending their support to the plan, Town Commissioners also heard the basic notion of how two hard-surface tennis courts, built for open play, could be constructed in the vicinity of the Tennis Center, though costs, exact positioning, timing, accommodations for existing drainage and parking weren’t discussed.

“Do this right, and the town will have succeeded in addressing and resolving a number of issues of concern as voiced by residents, voters and players with a win-win outcome,’’ Younger said. “No park or tennis center amenity will be lost and in fact will be gained.’’

As many as nine regulation pickleball courts could be in play at Bayfront Park if the proposal is fully implemented.

For the last year or so, the town has been considering ways to alleviate some of the logjams and satisfy the demand for the rapidly growing sport. Temporary nets and alternative striping on a Bayfront Park tennis court made a difference, but it’s still not enough in peak times. Tennis and pickleball fans often compete for court time.

As a solution, consultant George F. Young recommended four courts be built just north of four existing Tennis Center courts on the west side of Bay Isles Road, where a crushed-shell parking lot with 21 spaces exists now. In addition to existing street parking, additional parking was envisioned behind and just east of the Longboat Key Library, and the town opened communications with All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church regarding weekday and Saturday parking. Post office parking and other areas were also examined.

Rev. Marshall, who appeared before the Commission this week, said it wasn’t so much a parking issue, but the church maintains a serenity garden nearby, and the noise of the sport would likely be intrusive.

“We are not the right location to be near a pickleball court,” he said, joking that if he could find a relevant scripture on the topic he would let town leaders know.

Members of the town staff urged Town Commissioners to stick with the original recommendation, noting that pickleball traffic seemed to peak in January-April, but fall off after seasonal crowds had left the island.  They also noted the proliferation of private courts on the island – perhaps as many as 20 – that might cut into public-court demand.

The price for the town consultant’s proposal: in the neighborhood of $133,000 including sound-deadening fence material. Though no official price figure was offered for the conversion of Bayfront Park’s tennis courts, Commissioner Jack Daly quoted a price of about $23,000 to covert two tennis courts into eight pickleball courts, with fence modifications. It’s not immediately clear if eight regulation-sized courts, arrayed north-south to avoid direct sun, would fit. Six would fit comfortably, town staff said.

Both former Mayor Jim Brown and Planning & Zoning Board chair BJ Bishop criticized the town-consultant parking plan as impractical. “If a developer came to you and said 'I want to build a restaurant and my neighbor said I could use his parking,' would you approve it? No,’’ Brown said.

“This sets a poor planning precedent and it needs to go away,’’ Bishop said of the consultant study, which cost the town about $10,000.

Commissioners came to a consensus over the Bayfront Park plan, though they had begun raising questions about the Tennis Center proposal in May when it was rolled out, even noting the possibility of using a portion of the green-space site, something Commissioner Mike Haycock agreed with, noting the synergy with the Tennis Center's staff and reservations system was an advantage.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor said commission and citizen consensus was a good thing.

“I find it very gratifying this has not turned into a squabble,” he said. “Here we have the community coming together . . . with the blessing of the church.’’

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