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Pickleball at the Walter Reed Community Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County has spent more than $150,000 on acoustic fencing to help manage the noise coming from pickleball courts.

In recent weeks and months, acoustic fencing has gone up around multi-use courts at five different parks around the county. That includes Glebe Road Park, Marcey Road Park, Hayes Park, Virginia Highlands Park, and Walter Reed Community Center, which were installed just last week — and two years ahead of schedule.

Fort Scott Park will also have fences installed “in the coming weeks,” Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) spokesperson Jerusalem Solomon told ARLnow via email.

Solomon noted that Glebe Road Park’s fencing went up in mid-April, and “neighbors and players have shared that it has been working well to dampen noise from pickleball play.”

In all, $153,913.25 has been spent on the fencing so far. The Walter Reed Community Center installation alone cost $41,235.70, Solomon said.

“In determining a way to balance the demand for pickleball while also being sensitive to the surrounding community, the County decided to make this investment as a way to help alleviate some of the impacts that noise from pickleball play has on neighbors,” Solomon wrote. “This is why fencing that faces homes that are less than 300 feet away were prioritized in the planning for installation.”

Along with putting up fencing, DPR crews are also restriping tennis courts for pickleball at four of those parks — Fort Scott Park, Marcey Road Park, Hayes Park and Virginia Highlands Park — in accordance with the Arlington Outdoor Courts Assessment Project. That study determined those parks were the best places to re-strip tennis courts for pickleball. It was a recommendation that was first made back in April.

At least one civic association disagreed with how the process played out, though. Earlier this summer, the Donaldson Run Civic Association sent a letter to DPR arguing that there wasn’t “any real opportunity for input from our neighborhood” before restriping courts at Marcey Road Park.

This came on the heels of the Old Glebe Civic Association also suggesting some sort of legal action against the county for much the same reason. Additionally, a group of neighbors near Walter Reed Community Center contemplated a lawsuit because of the plan to bring more courts to the facility.

Arlington’s pickleball problem has received recent national attention, from a New York Times story to a discussion on NPR’s nationally syndicated show 1A to fodder for jokes on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. However, it appears some of the emotions have since cooled.

Old Glebe Civic Association president Howard Solodky told ARLnow in an email that the recently installed fencing and the closing of a few courts have helped quiet the noise.

“The combination of closure of the standalone pickleball court that was closest to the homes on N. Tazewell, the placement of sound insulating material around two sides of the tennis/pickleball courts and reduced hours at Glebe Park has proven satisfactory to the affected homeowners, while not perfect,” Solodky wrote.

At Marcey Road Park, fencing has also recently gone up. Donaldson Run Civic Association president Bill Richardson told ARLnow that while it’s too early to tell how much impact the fencing will have on mitigating the noise, he does appreciate the county considering their concerns. He hopes the thousands of dollars the county has spent on acoustic fencing is worth it.

“There is a debate about whether [the fencing] is or isn’t effective. The county says they have studies that have shown that acoustic fencing is effective,” Richardson said. “I don’t know who’s right on that, but that’s one of the things that we will be watching.”

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Three Arlington County parks — Thomas Jefferson Park, Towers Park and Marcey Road Park — could see substantial upgrades over the next year.

Contracts to improve the amenities at these three facilities are teed up for County Board approval this Saturday. The projects were all approved in the summer of 2018 as part of the 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan.

If passed, the natural-grass upper field at the Thomas Jefferson Park (3501 2nd Street S.), which hosts the Arlington County Fair, will be redone with synthetic turf.

As part of the $1.1 million project, the field will get spectator seating, signage, site furnishings and new landscaping, as well as athletic equipment and a long jump area. There will be accessibility and stormwater management improvements. The field’s existing lighting will remain.

“The conversion should not impact the County Fair if it remains at TJ,” Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said. “The County is looking into investing in a turf cover to protect the field at TJ and possibly at other synthetic turf fields.”

But Arlington County Fair organizers are considering moving the event to Long Bridge Park.

During community outreach about the turf project, conducted in the winter of 2019-20, residents indicated “a strong desire to keep the County Fair at Thomas Jefferson Park,” according to a staff report. The county is once more accepting feedback on the potential move.

In the report, the parks department responded to safety concerns about synthetic turf and pointed to Arlington County Public Health’s Synthetic Turf FAQ.

“At this time, all independent studies report that ‘the preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf,'” the report said.

Construction would take about six months.

Over at Towers Park, at 801 S. Scott Street near Columbia Pike, the existing playground for 2 to 5-year-olds, last replaced in 2000, would be razed. A new playground for 2 to 5-year-olds and another for 5 to 12-year-olds will be installed elsewhere, as the current structure falls in a resource protection area that will be reforested.

If approved, that project could start in the fourth quarter of 2021 and finish in the second quarter of 2022. There will be stormwater management work and new walkways, fencing, signage, site furnishings and landscaping.

The project was delayed by the pandemic and over-budget bids, per a board report. After a first round of bids came back too high, the report said DPR “value-engineered the play equipment selection” and rebid the project this June. All the bids were still over-budget, but the county negotiated the lowest bid to $825,000.

Finally, at Marcey Road Park, located 2722 N. Marcey Road near Military Road, the basketball court, the three tennis courts, the parking lot and picnic shelter will be replaced. The park will get new LED court lighting and furnishings, as well as drainage, stormwater management and landscaping work.

“The outdoor amenities for this park are past their life expectancy and are in need of replacement,” a county report said. “Community feedback indicated the desire for more seating opportunities and trash receptacles, a larger basketball court, a larger picnic area with shade, improved tennis court practice wall, improved accessibility and preservation of as many trees as possible.”

Every bid was over-budget, and the lowest was a non-negotiable $1.3 million, the report said. That project is expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2021 and finish in the third quarter of 2022.

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