(Updated on 2/14/23) The fight over the new pickleball courts coming to Walter Reed Community Center appears to have escalated.
In a flyer that’s now being disseminated around the neighborhood, opponents are leveling accusations of “bullying of our children by pickleball players,” “public urination on playground and sensory garden,” and causing “excessive continuous noise from dawn to 10 p.m. every day.”
If more pickleball courts are added, it will even be more of a “public nuisance” the flyer says. It does not go into greater detail about the accusations.
“Arlington County is giving away our rights to Walter Reed Community Center (WRCC) to build a dedicated Pickleball Cluster,” it reads. “Current issues will get worse with conversion of 3 tennis to 9 pickleball courts.”
The flyer also lists “large crowds,” “parking issues,” and “tennis and basketball hijacked” as problems. It asks residents to fill out a Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation survey, attend upcoming Columbia Heights Civic Association meetings, and be at this week’s public meeting to make their concerns known.
In November, Arlington residents approved a countywide bond referendum that included spending $2 million to add more pickleball courts in the county including at Walter Reed Community Center.
The plan is to convert the current outdoor tennis courts to pickleball courts by adding netting, pavement, lighting, signage, fencing, and “sound reduction measures.”
The basketball court, which currently is stripped for pickleball, will be converted back to its original use.
The project’s completion is still at least two years away. Feedback through online surveys and community meetings will be gathered throughout 2023, per a recently-published county timeline. Construction could begin in the spring of 2024 with early 2025 as the current goal for it to be completed.
A group that is calling itself the “Walter Reed Neighborhood Group” is behind the flyers, ARLnow has learned. It’s a core group of about 10 to 15 nearby residents who have handed out about 600 flyers around the neighborhood, we’re told.
The group is not trying to start an “all-out war” on pickleball, a number of neighbors said in a conversation earlier today. They are disputing the process that resulted in the decision to build a cluster of courts near their homes.
“The county has… created the situation and they’re putting pickleballers against local residents,” neighbor Armand Ciccarelli told ARLnow.
He and the others in the group said that the court score assessment process DPR used to determine that Walter Reed was the best option for the cluster of courts was “flawed.” Walter Reed Community Center beat out several other options by a single point, per the county-produced chart.
“Arlington is ramping up [the building of courts] and throwing them in South Arlington,” Ciccarelli said. “The county is ignoring us.”
The construction of nine new pickleball courts won’t simply attract county residents, neighbors said, but players from across the region.
“By having a large cluster here, we are attracting pickleballers from all over the place,” Jacquelyn, a group member and a pickleball player herself, said. “This will no longer be a community center for the community, it will become pickleball central for the entire DMV area. And our little neighborhood can’t handle that.”
Of course, not everyone agrees with the group and its assessment of the ills of pickleball.
Out here doing some street research on this pickle ball thing – don’t see much urinating or bullying currently – will stick around for a few hours tho just in case pic.twitter.com/s17nATIjo0
— SRtwofourfour (@SRtwofourfour) February 10, 2023
As the sport has rapidly gained popularity — more than 36 million people played pickleball between August 2021 and August 2022, according to a new report — players have been lobbying localities like Arlington for more courts.
Ciccarelli did acknowledge that the anti-pickleball flyers could be interpreted as inflammatory, but that was a deliberate choice to get more attention. He said that “99%” of locals the group has talked to do not have “any awareness of this project.”
Ciccarelli noted that the group has brought their concerns to DPR and the County Board but “got nothing back” beyond being told to fill out the survey and attend the meeting.
They hope these flyers will bring a renewed sense of urgency to others who also might have concern, he said. This more organized effort came out of the initial group of residents that were “contemplating a lawsuit” against the county back in November.
Pickleball has soared in popularity in the county in recent years, with players successfully advocating for more courts.
But that’s come with complaints from some locals about the popularity and noise. When a pickleball hits the paddle, a loud pop sound is often produced — infamously known as “pickleball pop.”
Over the summer, DPR closed at least one public court that was situated near residences. One in a northern Arlington neighborhood was eventually reopened, which led to a lawsuit threat from the local civic association. That strong pushback inspired this neighborhood group to speak up, members said.
“We are not against pickleball,” Ciccarelli said. “What we are fighting here is Arlington County. Arlington County has pursued a bad process.”
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