With the snow now off the ground and the weather warming up, many Tri-City residents are getting out again for fresh air and exercise.
And many are hitting the courts to play a sport that’s been growing in popularity around North America since COVID-19 hit: Pickleball.
Like tennis, pickleball is a paddle game that can be played as singles or doubles.
“It’s a dream sport for our parks department because it uses existing facilities, and people of all ages and backgrounds can play,” said Coquitlam Coun. Chris Wilson, chair of the Sports and Recreation Advisory Committee.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s getting more people active.”
But the challenge is finding the right place to play.
At Coquitlam’s Blue Mountain Park, where the city has allowed pickleball on the tennis courts since July 2020, the neighbours aren’t happy.
Connie Ball, who represents a dozen homeowners at Blue Mountain Manor, just south of the courts, said they’ve had enough of the racket. And with the temperature improving and the games restarting, she’s calling on the city to ban pickleball from the park.
The problem? The pitch of the sound when the whiffle ball bounces off the paddles, which Ball says is a violation of the city’s noise bylaw.
“Some days, it starts at 6 a.m. and it goes to 9 p.m.,” the 25-year resident told the Tri-City News on Monday. “It’s annoying. Our lives have been upended.”
Over the past year-and-a-half, Ball has penned dozens of emails to parks and bylaw staff and to politicians; her file is two-inches thick.
But her pleas have fallen on deaf ears, she said, which has further added to her and her neighbours’ stress levels, and have caused insomnia.
Frustrated by their lack of concern, Ball said, she’s now plans to seek legal advice and contact B.C.’s Office of the Ombudsperson, as well as B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, to have the matter resolved.
Ball points to a statement, issued last February, by Tennis BC and Pickleball BC stating that no pickleball court should be within 500 ft. from homes; Ball’s complex, of which she’s on the third level, is about 300 ft. away.
Bob Unetich, a certified referee for USA Pickleball and a professional registered engineer, wrote in Pickleball Magazine that the decibels of pickleball are louder than tennis because of the popping sound from the paddle.
“Frequent pickleball sounds are typically about 70 dBa at about 100 feet away from the strike of the ball,” he wrote. “Residents in homes located in a quiet residential area that are within 100 feet from pickleball courts are used to noise levels of 40 dBa, therefore the level of pickleball noise is 30 decibels louder.”
“And, remember, each time you increase a sound level by 10 decibels, it will sound twice as loud,” he continued. “So, an increase of 30 decibels is (10dB+10dB+10dB) or 2x as loud x 2x as loud x 2x as loud, or 8 times as loud.”
Unetich concludes pickleball courts shouldn’t be near homes.
The topic of noise mitigation cropped up in Port Moody last spring, prompting council to direct staff to remove the pickleball lines at Chestnut Way Park.
On Tuesday, council considered an update to its Tennis and Pickleball Strategy, due this summer, which directs staff to find other locations for pickleball like North Shore Community Park. Community consultation will take place.
Meanwhile, the City of Coquitlam also plans to update its Tennis and Pickleball Strategy, with a report coming before council in February or March.
Even though the strategy is only four years old, “all the trends are off because pickleball has been more heavily played since the pandemic started,” said Kathleen Reinheimer, Coquitlam’s manager of parks.
Responding to Ball’s complaints, she argued that staff have paid attention neighbours’ feedback and made adjustments — among them, removing the fixed nets, posting signage, altering hours and installing sound barriers at the courts.
A sound meter was also bought for city staff to take daily readings before and after the acoustic panels went up at Blue Mountain.
“The readings technically were never very high in any direction and were measurably reduced at ground level to the south of the courts once the panels were installed,” Reinheimer said.
“Unfortunately what we found out was that, although the panels seems to work to redirect the sound to the north away from the neighbours and into the park, there’s no way short of a roof and walls to stop the sound going above the fence line.”
She said the Blue Mountain Park master plan, now in the works, will delve into the courts’ future use.
Reinheimer said the recently formed PoCoMo Pickleball Club has helped the city to refine its policies for the sport.
A non-profit society, it has 327 members who have played at Bramble Park (2875 Panorama Dr.) since June 2021; the following month, those courts were converted with fixed pickleball nets and set times.
“The city was proactive and invited the neighbours to take part in the pilot program,” said club president Julie McRitchie who recently returned from a pickleball tournament in Arizona.
She added, “More and more younger people are playing pickleball. People need to be outside because it’s good for their physical and mental health.”
Club members also use four new courts at the Terry Fox Hometown Square outside of Port Coquitlam Community Centre (PCCC); however, Lori Bowie, PoCo’s recreation director, said that use is also in a test run as is Routley Park.
Imperial and Evergreen parks are also being used for pickleball in PoCo.
“Ultimately, we would like to observe the overall impact the new outdoor/indoor courts at PCCC and other measures pickleball will have on the use within all neighbourhood parks this upcoming season — before any permanent solutions are considered,” Bowie said.
As for Ball, she said she’s tried to find solutions with the City of Coquitlam to dampen the sharp volume.
She also points out that the city’s messaging is incorrect on its signs for hours and places to play, which leads to more resentment.
“Pickleball players are passionate but I want to get back to my passions, too,” Ball said. “This has severely impacted my health."