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Pickleball pop peeves particular people, prompting park pilot program

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) The loud pop sound produced by a pickleball hitting a paddle has led to the closing of a popular court at Glebe Road Park.

A new pilot program that began last month at the North Arlington park is temporarily closing a stand-alone outdoor pickleball court through the majority of the spring and summer.

As a replacement, the tennis court next to it is now striped to create two additional pickleball courts. With the change, there are now two lighted multi-purpose tennis/pickleball courts and one lighted tennis court at Glebe Road Park. The park’s hours also have been adjusted, with the lights now shutting off at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m.

The reason for these changes is that the pop of pickleball — an increasingly popular sport — is bothersome some nearby neighbors in the Old Glebe community.

“One of the issues with pickleball is complaints of the popping noise the paddle makes when it hits the ball,” Martha Holland, a spokesperson for the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation, tells ARLnow. “These concerns are not unique to Arlington but are prevalent in many communities nationwide. Many jurisdictions are grappling with finding the balance [given] the growth in pickleball.”

“These concerns were present before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holland added. “However, the increase in play on the dedicated pickleball court at Glebe Road Park during COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation.”

The pilot program is set to run until September 6 and, at that point, the county will determine next steps.

“We will be checking in with the community (neighbors and court users) a couple times during the pilot to get feedback,” Holland wrote. “We hope to mitigate the sound issues by moving pickleball to the tennis courts.”

It’s no secret that pickleball’s popularity has surged over the last two years, due in part to it being a relatively low-impact social sport that allows players to stay within a relatively safe distance from one another.

This has, in turn led Arlington County to increase the number of courts available for pickleball.

But it also has caused some challenges. For one, there’s a limited number of available court space in the county. Back in November, county officials expressed some frustration that pickleball players were going rogue and unilaterally marking off pickleball boundaries on existing tennis and basketball courts.

At Glebe Road Park, the re-striping of a tennis court for pickleball hasn’t sat well with everyone vying for a share of that prime concrete real estate.

Helen White, part of the Arlington Pickleball Club‘s leadership team, says she’s heard from members that they’ve been “bullied” by tennis players when using the courts.

There is a county-run reservation system, allowing residents to book one of the tennis courts in 60 or 90 minute increments at $10 an hour. However, with many spots open, it’s unclear how much the system is actually utilized.

Then, there’s the noise of ball meeting paddle.

It was a single household that first brought a noise concerns to the county’s attention in August 2020, Arlington’s Director of Constituent Services Ben Aiken confirms to ARLnow. As time went on, though, more households complained to the county about the popping noise, Aiken says.

There was even talk of a petition, supposedly signed by about 20 households all living near the park on N. Old Glebe Road, though Aiken tells ARLnow that he has yet to receive a formal petition and is not aware of one circulating in the community.

ARLnow attempted to reach out to the homeowner who initially complained to the county, but they declined to speak for this story.

This past November, the county approached the Old Glebe Civic Association and President Howard Solodky, President of the Old Glebe Civic Association, asking them to help with a solution.

“We have spoken with that homeowner, with a representative of the pickleball community and with [DPR] several times,” Solodky says. “We have also visited the park and listened to the level of sound projected down to the homes closest to the pickleball courts.”

After much deliberation, closing the court closest to the homes was chosen as the best course of action. But some in the pickleball community say the closure caught them by surprise.

Arlington resident Helen White, a long-time player and a local ambassador for the sport, said that Glebe Road Park is one of her “spots” for playing at least several times a month. She admits it can get crowded, but she’s never heard any complaints from neighbors.

“The only neighbors I’ve heard from are the ones that love to play pickleball,” she says.

When the court closure was announced, it caught her and others off guard. What’s more, by striping the tennis courts for pickleball, it puts tennis and pickleball players at odds for court time.

White says this has left her frustrated and less likely to use Glebe Road Park, but she added that she sympathizes with those annoyed by the pickleball pop.

“With more people working from home, I get that they don’t want to hear that noise all the time,” she said. “I’ve asked myself ‘would I want to live there?’, Probably not.”

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