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EXCLUSIVE: More residents are threatening legal action because of pickleball noise

Pickleball being played outside at Walter Reed Community Center (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

More neighbors are threatening legal action because of the infamous pickleball pop.

A resident living near the Walter Reed Community Center tells ARLnow that the noise coming from the nearby pickleball courts is “excessive” and constant, to the point that that a group of neighbors is “contemplating a lawsuit of our own” against the county.

“Our community center, with its 9 courts, has become ‘pickleball central,'” Ashley, a resident who lives near the community center, wrote to ARLnow in an email. “We believe the excessive playtime that generates a loud, constant popping sound negatively impacts our quality of life and property value.”

ARLnow received an additional call from a nearby resident, reiterating many of these claims and decrying the loud “pop” made when a pickleball hits a paddle.

The eight households involved all live on 16th Street S., across the street from the community center. They have joined together in asking the county to do something about the crowds and noise coming from the pickleball courts, per Ashley. She’s asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons.

In recent weeks, the residents met with Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation, a couple of County Board members, and the Columbia Heights Civic Association to make their concerns known.

So far, discussions haven’t produced the outcome they are hoping for: enforcing court hours, closing some pickleball courts, and reconsideration of plans to potentially add more courts. They believe that the noise coming from the courts is in violation of the county’s noise ordinance.

The group says they’re considering legal action along similar lines to what the Old Glebe Civic Association has discussed, as previously reported by ARLnow.

“None of us want to put an end to pickleball. Everybody has a right to use the park and its services,” Ashley said. “It’s just excessive. It’s loud and it’s very intrusive.”

Earlier this month, Old Glebe Civic Association also began considering legal action due to the ending of a pilot program that had closed a pickleball court at Glebe Road Park. The court’s recent reopening has made the noise issue even “more contentious,” with the civic association’s leadership saying that “a solution short of litigation appears unlikely.”

Ashley said when she and her neighbors read that story, it seemed like confirmation that their situation also would not be resolved without some sort of legal action. Ashley has lived in her home on 16th Street S. for about five years, but it was this past summer when the noise became “maddening.”

Pickleball has taken Arlington — and the U.S. generally — by storm over the last few years. This year, however, the sport seemingly grew beyond the county’s current capacity, prompting a tug-of-war between those who want more pickleball facilities, neighbors concerned about noise, and the players of other sports — particularly tennis — who stand to lose courts to the pickleball juggernaut.

Ashley said that there were times over the summer and into the fall when she could hear the pop of the ball hitting the paddle starting at 5 a.m. and not stopping until 11 p.m — 18 hours a day.

Reading the comments on previous ARLnow pickleball stories, she knows her complaints can seem ridiculous to some, but she insists they are legit.

“It sounds really comical, but when you live across the street from an endless stream of just popping, it’s not funny,” she said.

Ashley and other neighbors met with local parks and rec officials in October, a meeting the department confirmed to ARLnow. The neighbors asked DPR to limit court hours, close some courts to pickleball to allow other sports to be played, and better monitor the noise coming from the courts.

They also expressed their disappointment in not being formally consulted about the possibility of new courts coming to Walter Reed.

“We were not consulted as a community, nor do we support this plan,” she said.

A few weeks later, Ashley said, they received an email from DPR thanking them for bringing their concerns to their attention but the feeling among neighbors was that the department was “basically ignoring our requests… it was a canned, lame response.”

That’s when the group began considering their legal options.

“We started talking among ourselves, looking into legal representation, and looking into getting a sound study done independently to provide that information to the county,” she said.

In a statement to ARLnow, DPR called the October meeting a “productive conversation” and said the follow-up email provided a “plan of action” to address the concerns. The proposed fixes include turning out the court lights at 10 p.m., as opposed to 11 p.m., and “improving signage.”

Additionally, DPR said that there was a public engagement process that resulted in Walter Reed Community Center being chosen as the “best candidate” for permanent pickleball courts. But that doesn’t mean more courts are set in stone.

“As published publicly during the County Board’s CIP process earlier this year, there will be a community process to determine the final design and configuration of the courts at Walter Reed in 2024,” DPR spokesperson Martha Holland wrote in an email. “This does not mean there will necessarily be more pickleball courts at Walter Reed. The design process will include the neighbors, users and anyone else interested in the project.”

As for the threat of being sued, DPR said they “do not comment on potential legal actions.”

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