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Bird Key residents pan pickleball plans

The Bird Key Yacht Club wants to install pickleball courts on its property, but residents say the proposal will disrupt the neighborhood.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. July 27, 2017
Residents like Phyllis Rose believe the pickleball courts will bring trouble.
Residents like Phyllis Rose believe the pickleball courts will bring trouble.
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Bird Key Yacht Club officials knew neighboring residents were concerned about the club’s plans to install six pickleball courts on its property, so they decided to show them the sport was quieter than they feared.

Earlier this year, the club invited residents to a demonstration to hear for themselves. The club planned to use quieter balls than the pickleball standard. The goal, the club said, was to make sure the courts didn’t impede on the lives of people living around them.

Brian McCarthy, who’s representing the yacht club as the pickleball courts go through the city development review process, thought the results of the demonstration were conclusive.

“Nothing like getting out and hearing it to convince people it is a relatively quiet sport,” he said.

Except many Bird Key residents aren’t convinced.

The city has scheduled a workshop Aug. 8 to discuss the project. But already, resident Al Bordenstein said, 32 homeowners in the neighborhood have signed a petition opposing the pickleball courts. The sound remains a concern, with some residents skeptical the club can force players to use the quieter ball.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, pickleball is a paddle game that combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton. The USA Pickleball Association touts the sport as one of the fastest growing in the country. The potential for widespread interest outside of Bird Key is one of the reasons residents are decrying the proposed pickleball courts.

Bill McNulty, another Bird Key resident opposed to the plans, says homeowners aren’t being unreasonable. He’s found evidence online of neighborhood disputes tied to pickleball courts. A 2010 Wall Street Journal article describes a spate of clashes within communities sparked by newly installed pickleball courts — partially because of noise the sport generates.

The issues aren’t limited to the sound of the ball, McNulty said. The players themselves can be raucous. The courts would replace 18 parking spaces on the yacht club property, which could lead to more visitors parking on the street.

“Every single one of my neighbors that I’ve spoken with is vehemently opposed,” McNulty said. “Some have already engaged attorneys.”

The city must approve a major conditional use permit for the yacht club to proceed with the pickleball project. In an otherwise residential neighborhood, McNulty doesn’t see a reason the plans should move forward.

“Once the pickleball goes through, that nuisance is there, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” McNulty said. “We’re being asked to make an accommodation for nonresidents that we wouldn’t ever make for residents.”

Phyllis Rose, who lives across the street from the yacht club, shares McNulty’s concerns. She just moved into her home a year ago. When she heard about the planned pickleball courts, though, she started looking at potentially selling her property.

“I moved here because it was a nice, quiet, safe neighborhood,” Rose said. “They’re changing the dynamic right in front of my eyes.”

She thinks the club is prioritizing its own interests without concern for how it will affect the rest of Bird Key. She, too, fears the city will judge the application by a different standard.

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” Rose said.

McCarthy said few proposed developments get unanimous support and reiterated his belief that the pickleball courts will be quiet — quieter than the tennis courts that already exist at the yacht club.

“Right across our street are multimillion dollar homes, and we’ve never received a complaint,” McCarthy said.

Despite the club’s efforts, it’s unlikely residents will be convinced the pickleball courts won’t be disruptive.

“We want the yacht club to succeed,” McNulty said. “But first, do no harm.”


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