UPDATE April 21: Pickleball Club president John Hindle said Thursday morning the town and the club have had their day in provincial court, with the hearing having come to a conclusion Wednesday. Both the town and club were charged with a noise bylaw infraction, and now await a decision, which Hindle said he expects could come in June.
He'd like it to come sooner — until then, the outdoor pickle ball courts remain closed to the club and the public.
The town and the club have been working cooperatively, and although members are not happy that their outdoor Virgil courts are not able to open as expected, they have begun making use of the indoor space in the Centennial Arena the town has set aside for them.
“Many of the club’s members are deeply upset with the town’s decision to close the outdoor courts, and offer us indoor space in the Centennial Arena,” says Hindle.
“Mostly, our members fear that the cement floors and their older knees and hips will not go well together. Of course falling onto cement is a natural fear for our older members,” he said in an email to The Local.
“Although we will continue to offer sessions at the community centre, pickleball was meant to be played outdoors, like tennis or golf, and only because of our nasty winters do we choose to move indoors. The complete loss of this outdoor season will directly impact the emotional health of many of our 250 members who are already experiencing a weakened spirit due to COVID.”
Information shared in an email to club members, some of it from the town, said six temporary courts have been constructed in the arena, and will be available daily to members of the club and the public Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for specific dates between April 29 and July 25. Those days include the three days of the Virgil Stampede, and some lacrosse tournaments.
The temporary relocation of the pickleball courts is in response to “identified noise concerns associated with the use of the outdoor pickleball courts,” and will remain there until the issue can be resolved by provincial court, the email to members says, adding that the town “is hopeful” the issue will be dealt with quickly.
Two days were scheduled for the court case, one Wednesday and one in June, which has turned out not to be necessary.
The town put up a sign on the outdoor pickleball court earlier this week, directing club members and members of the public to the courts inside the arena.
In the meantime, members can also continue to play at the community centre, following its normal schedule. Hindle says he's grateful that the town is trying to do everything they can to help the club, but they have outgrown the community centre, with not enough sessions booked. The inside of the arena is really not ideal, he said.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero could only say that a discussion about the pickleball courts took place behind closed doors during a March 21 committee of the whole meeting.
The agenda for that evening indicated an in-camera meeting would be held “subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose, specifically regarding a noise by-law prosecution.”
The sport of pickleball dates back to 1965 and its beginnings in Washington state, and from its modest roots, the sport’s popularity has surged. Although it appeals to seniors, the pandemic has prompted even more people to pick up a paddle, attracting kids and families.
Club members have had scheduled times over the last two years, with other time slots open to the public.
Club play was suspended on the Virgil courts in 2020, due to COVID-19, but the gate code was available to the public so they could play, following pandemic safety guidelines.
When the club was first formed in NOTL, members were using the badminton courts at the community centre. In 2018, given the sport’s growing popularity, the town was asked to convert the tennis courts at the Virgil sports park to pickleball courts.
The courts were rebuilt and opened in the spring of 2019, and club membership grew from 60 to 270 that year, said Hindle.
In 2020, the club spent $5,000 on windscreens to help with Niagara winds that affect the light ball during play.
The club also asked the town to install the gate locks that could be controlled by a code to protect and manage the courts, which were being damaged by bicycles and skate boards.
The club has since also paid for a shade shelter. All of that was able to occur due to a partnership between the club and the town, forged in 2020 on a trial basis, setting out the responsibilities of both, including how costs and maintenance will be shared.
Hindle told The Local in 2020 that the club has asked those playing to be respectful of noise that might bother those whose homes border the park, just steps away from the courts.
In 2021, when the courts reopened for the season, the hours of play were reduced to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. They had been starting an hour earlier and ending an hour later, but times were changed out of respect for nearby residents, who found activity from the courts could be noisy.
There was some discussion at a council meeting in May 2021 about reducing the hours even further, closing down at 9 p.m., but councillors had little appetite for taking another hour of play away from club members and the public without consultation.
“We should be encouraging people to get outside,” said Coun. Allan Bisback at the time. “We don’t know what this recovery is going to be like,” he added, speaking to reopening during the pandemic, and noting the courts have lights for evening use.
The town’s noise bylaw goes into effect at 11 p.m., and closing an hour earlier gives players time to pack up their stuff and chat amongst themselves, heading home before the noise curfew begins, Disero said at that meeting.
But in other areas where there have been noise issues, including Vancouver, it is the sound of the pickleball paddle hitting the plastic ball that is annoying to nearby neighbours.
The email to members said club “board members will continue to defend the club from this serious charge (the noise bylaw infraction) in provincial court."