County may be sued over pickleball courts, civic association says

A tennis court at Glebe Road Park was restriped for pickleball (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A local civic association says a lawsuit may be imminent over the infamous pickleball pop.

In a recent community newsletter, Old Glebe Civic Association leaders detailed their displeasure with the county ending a pilot program that closed a popular standalone pickleball court at Glebe Road Park earlier this year.

The program was initially enacted as a means to mitigate the noise of the loud pop sound produced by a pickleball hitting a paddle that was bothering some close-by neighbors, primarily those who live on a dead-end block near the courts.

The OGCA called that pilot program a “compromise” since it also looked to appease players by restriping a nearby tennis court for pickleball so there were now four courts, as opposed to the previous three. But with the program now being “abandoned,” the newsletter says, “the noise issue has become more contentious.”

The county has since proposed another pilot program that would reopen the standalone pickleball court but with limited hours and surrounded by a “noise reducing fence,” a spokesperson with the Department of Parks and Recreation tells ARLnow.

However, the OGCA opposes any reopening of the pickleball court and wrote that if the county doesn’t find a better way to mitigate the noise, legal action might be taken.

“We hope that a new compromise can be reached before affected parties turn to law courts for resolution of the issue, as has happened repeatedly in other cities throughout the country,” the newsletter reads.

Pickleball has exploded in popularity over the last several years in Arlington. It has prompted players to ask the county for more courts — which the county is now expected to deliver after a bond referendum including $2 million for pickleball has passed.

The impact of the sport’s rise has not sat well with everyone, though. The crowds and noise — particularly the loud pickleball pop — at certain local courts have bothered some surrounding neighbors. This includes those who live near Glebe Road Park.

“The noise from pickleball has become a major problem for residents of nearby houses — particularly those living on the section of Tazewell Street off of 38th Street,” reads the OGCA newsletter. “Some of the houses are only 135 feet from a ‘stand alone’ pickleball court; the noise from the court reverberates across the amphitheater-like terrain downhill to Tazewell Street and can be heard distinctly (and constantly) inside the houses.”

These concerns are not unique to Arlington, with the county looking to other jurisdictions to figure out how best to broker a pickleball peace. The initial pilot program, which ran from April to early September, closed down the pickleball court closest to the houses, but also added two more courts to the park by restriping a tennis court.

While the county “learned a lot” from the pilot, it didn’t paint a “full picture” about the best way forward, a county official told ARLnow.

“Over the last several months tennis and pickleball players, despite some inherent conflicts, have adjusted to sharing the two multi-use courts at Glebe Park. The courts have been very busy,” DPR spokesperson Martha Holland said. “Throughout the duration of this pilot, we have heard from park users and neighbors alike about the need to reopen the stand-alone court and to allow for pickleball plus other recreational options (soccer, fitness workouts, etc.).”

So, in response, the county is instituting a “Phase 2” pilot program that will keep the striping on the park’s tennis courts and install a “noise reducing fence” on three sides of the standalone court.

“The side of the court that touches the basketball court will not be wrapped, for safety reasons. Once the fence is up, DPR will reopen the court and monitor its use,” said Holland.

In addition, the court will be available via a reservation system and the court lights will be turned off at 10 p.m.

There’s no set timeline for when the new pilot program will be instituted, noted Holland, due to supply-chain issues slowing down the construction of the fence. When the pilot does get instituted, it will last six to eight months.

Civic association leadership, however, believes the new pilot program will “likely exacerbate the noise problem considerably” mostly due to the reopening of the standalone court.

They believe the sound barriers will do little to muffle the sound due to the close proximity of the houses to the courts. Plus, with no barriers going up around the tennis courts, the sound will continue to carry from those courts, the OGCA newsletter predicts, noting that with the reopening of the standalone court there will be five pickleball courts at Glebe Road Park.

In September, after the first pilot program ended, OGCA said it sent a letter to the county asking for the original pilot program to be reinstated and the standalone court to be closed. But it appears that letter has not dissuaded DPR from reopening the standalone court, prompting a written shot across the bow in the neighborhood newsletter.

“OGCA will continue to monitor the situation and to work toward a solution that accommodates the needs both of park users and nearby residents,” the newsletter updated residents. “But at the moment, a solution short of litigation appears unlikely.”

Holland confirmed that DPR did receive the letter.

“We received that email and we are working to schedule a meeting with the OGCA members, neighbors, pickleball players and tennis players to discuss opportunities to find a balance of uses at the park,” she said. “We look forward to this discussion and hope that we are able to determine a path forward that works for all concerned.”

As for the potential lawsuit, Holland said: “We do not comment on potential legal actions.”