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Pickleballers raise a racket after North Saanich votes to shutter courts

Click to play video: 'Plug pulled on North Saanich pickleball courts'
Plug pulled on North Saanich pickleball courts
North Saanich council is permanently pulling the plug on a popular pickleball playing area and players are perturbed. Global's Paul Johnson explains what the noise is all about. – May 3, 2024

Call it yet another battle in the pickleball wars.

Players of the popular racket sport in North Saanich were shocked to learn this week that the municipality’s council has voted to shutter a set of busy pickleball courts at Wain Park.

The move came amid complaints from neighbours about noise, and after council balked at installing sound mitigation fencing at a cost of $50,000 to $70,000.

Click to play video: 'North Saanich hires security to monitor pickleball courts'
North Saanich hires security to monitor pickleball courts

“Open courts simply don’t work because of the noise mitigation, and if there is noise mitigation available it is extremely expensive,” Mayor Peter Jones told an April 29 council meeting.

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“I would not like to come to our residents and ask them to fork over more cash, particularly for the Wain Park facility.”‘

Jack McClintock, the only councillor to oppose the closure, said it would be “improper” to take a recreational facility from a large group of users.

“I think it’s kind of unprecedented, I don’t know of any place that would have done something like this.”

The courts are slated for a May 7 closure.

The move has, unsurprisingly, been met with anger and frustration among pickleball players.

“It’s really shocked everyone that plays, it really came right out of the blue,” pickleball player Frank Gee told Global News.

“There was talk about getting some sound reduction tarping that goes around … and I thought that was the direction they were going to go, I think all of us thought that was the direction they were going to go and then all of a sudden: boom.”

Click to play video: 'Victoria pickleball players make a racket at city hall'
Victoria pickleball players make a racket at city hall

Pickleball is a racket/paddle game that uses a hard, polymer ball, and is thought to be one of North America’s fastest growing sports.

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Research has found the sound of a paddle striking a ball generates a sound of about 60 decibels.

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That’s well within most municipalities’ noise bylaws, however, complaints from neighbours have also prompted many communities to adopt industry standards that place courts at least 50 metres from homes.

At Wain park, the courts are directly across the street from several homes.

“That noise can be a little bit annoying, no disagreements there,” Wain Park pickleball player Derek Foster told Global News. “The only disagreement is for five local people who live nearby seem to be controlling the dictates of several hundred people of what to do.”

Foster said players felt it wasn’t fair for the municipality to completely disregard the possibility of noise mitigation, adding that players would have been happy to try and help raise some of the funding required.

Click to play video: 'B.C. man protesting pickleball noise near Chilliwack home ends hunger strike'
B.C. man protesting pickleball noise near Chilliwack home ends hunger strike

Amy Woermke, who only recently picked the sport up, said she felt like players were being pushed out of their own community.

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“This is a park. If you bought a home next to a park, there is going to be noise associated — we are not engaging in illegal or disruptive or unhealthy behaviours here, we are just having a good time,” she said.

“What can we do to keep it open? Is there something we can do to help make sure we reduce the noise if that’s the complaint? Or how much noise is actually happening that’s causing this closure? There’s a lot of questions and there’s a lot of solutions that could have been brought forward.”

North Saanich is the latest in a long list of communities to see municipal battles over pickleball courts.

Last summer, a Chilliwack man threatened a hunger strike over pickleball noise he claimed was making his home unlivable.

In Surrey, vandals damaged a brand-new pickleball court with fire in 2022.

Click to play video: 'South Surrey pickleball court vandalized two days after opening'
South Surrey pickleball court vandalized two days after opening

Several Vancouver Island municipalities have been forced to come up with compromise solutions amid noise disputes between players and nearby residents.

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Oak Bay relocated its pickleball facilities to a lacrosse court and installed sound barriers to reduce noise.

The City of Victoria also closed pickleball courts in James Bay over noise complaints, relocating the sport to Central Park.

At last week’s meeting, Jones suggested the sport would be better managed regionally, under the aegis of the Peninsula Recreation Commission, a partnership of Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich.

Players Global News spoke with, however, said the decision will likely leave them getting in their cars and driving to other municipalities where they’ll be competing for space on already crowded courts.

“We don’t have much in this community to connect,” Woermke said. “This is one way to connect in the community they have taken away, so if we want to connect we’ll have to go connect with people in Victoria or something like that.”

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