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Longboat Key Wednesday, May 29, 2019 4 months ago

Three quality-of-life issues for Longboat

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National elected officials garner all the attention, dealing with Iran and Green New Deals. But issues that matter just as much as those that will affect your neighborhood. Pickleball, anyone?
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Pickleball courts … inspection fees … and light poles.

Such is the life of being an unpaid, elected Longboat Key town commissioner, dealing with these sensitive neighborhood issues. 

It’s a glamorous life. And sometimes a hazardous one. 

Sure, national lawmakers may be dealing with health care affordability, Iranian aggression and Green New Deals. But neighborhood pickleball courts, inspection fees and light poles can be volatile, especially if they affect someone’s everyday peace or quality of life.

Consider these three pending issues:

Pickleball courts

Do a Google news search on pickleball noise. There are 233,000 links to the subject. And it’s good bet none of them is a story about how much people love the sound of pickleball. We didn’t find one during a round of scrolling.

The stories predominantly are about complaints; how municipalities, private clubs and neighborhoods are trying to arrest the noise. Even lawsuits. They go back as far as 2010.

Here’s an excerpt from a 2016 column by writer Brent Batten in the Naples Daily News: “An anonymous letter-writer tells me, ‘It has become a nightmare in gated communities. This sport has caused civil war pitting neighbor against neighbor. Hideaway Beach is now the poster child for the dark side of pickleball.’”

In February, even residents in frigid Apple Valley, Minn., showed up at a city council meeting to protest the noise.

We cite all of this as momentum is building on Longboat Key to add more pickleball courts to meet the apparent rising demand. 

Forget the cost issue. If Longboat’s pickleballers are anything like the town’s tennis buffs, they’ll figure out a way to combine tax dollars, public property and private contributions to build more courts. 

For the moment, the big issue is location: where to put them.

One spot that has a tentative bull’s eye on it is the shell parking lot just east of the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center’s four north tennis courts (see photo). It makes sense — clustering pickleball and tennis courts together. One, big happy family.

Not. You can find numerous news stories of tennis players becoming enraged over what to them is the annoying clacking of pickleball rackets and balls. And there are just as many news reports of people in residences near pickleball courts who make similar complaints.

A man in Punta Gorda who lives across the street from Gilchrist Park told a TV news crew that he and his wife hope each day it rains to keep the pickleballers away.

As one Longboater told us: How can it be with all the noise controversy the manufacturers of pickleball paddles and balls haven’t done what the manufacturers did for table tennis paddles? Those paddles went from loud-clacking sandpaper-like coatings to rubber coatings that did wonders to squelch the noise.

Apparently, the manufacturers and enthusiasts are making progress. Longboat officials are talking about erecting acoustic fencing that allegedly can reduce pickleball noise up to 50%. Manufacturers also are producing quieter paddles.

The “Pickleball Portal” website (pickleballportal.com) and Sun City Grand in Arizona, which features a complex with 22 pickleball courts, are all over the subject. They publish lists of the best and worst paddles, to which we’re providing this link: yourobserver.com/pickleball-paddles/.

All of this is to add to the Town Commission’s discussion and decision about where to locate more pickleball courts. 

While the site in between the town’s four north tennis courts and All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church looks enticing, don’t rush to judgment. Another logical place could be Bayfront Park. But that could mean sacrificing basketball courts and open space. Or, perhaps: Move the four north public tennis center courts to the town-owned property that was being designated for the Arts, Culture and Education Center.

You can be sure the tennis players and neighboring residents on Neptune Avenue will have plenty to say about squeezing pickleball courts between the tennis courts and All Angels and up against their backyards. And there might likely be ample protests to relocating tennis courts to the Arts, Culture and Education Center site.

Pardon the pun, this has created quite the pickle. As we said, it’s a hazardous job as a town commissioner making these dicey decisions. In this instance, more research is needed that shows how cities and clubs have addressed the noise issue successfully. 

At the least, this pickleball matter demonstrates once again the perils of municipalities owning property and providing taxpayer-subsidized recreation. What about a bowling alley for bowlers? Or a gun range for sport shooters? A cat park for cats?

Light poles

What do you prefer: shorter and more street light and cellular poles and spotty cellular service at $2.26 million? Or fewer and taller poles and better service at $1.44 million?

That’s an easy one. And the Town Commission took it, opting to go with its consultant’s recommendation for 35-foot light and data poles on Gulf of Mexico Drive and 25-foot poles in the neighborhoods.

Truth is, no one will really know how the poles look until they see them in place. It’s one thing to see an image of someone standing on Bee Ridge Road. It would be more helpful to show Longboaters a real-life simulated visual of how the poles will look on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Inspection and permit fees

It’s a crazy way to run a railroad, as the saying goes — not charging enough to cover the cost of operating.

That’s what the town of Longboat Key is doing with its fees for issuing building permits and performing building inspections — apparently not charging enough to cover the cost of the inspections and reviews. The fees  cover only 74% of the cost. 

The town wants to bring those fees up to 96% of the cost, while at the same time keep the fees for minor projects affordable.

To make matters crazier, state law prohibits counties and municipalities from charging more than 100% of the costs.

The town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department is expected to present a menu of proposals next month to raise the permit and inspection fees. One includes changing the pricing for 73 fees. Two other ideas will include hooking fees to the consumer prices and/or raising fees in tandem with increases in the town planning staff’s wages.

All of this sounds complicated and bureaucratic. 

Perhaps this is a simpler approach: Turn the process over to the private sector. Town ordinances can require the inspections and permit reviews, but make them the responsibility of the property owners — to have them professionally completed and certified by third-party vendors.

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