The Pennington Borough Council met October 18 for a special session to address the ongoing dispute over pickleball at the Senior Center. Council has received numerous complaints regarding the use of the Senior Center parking lot and adjoining cul-de-sac for pickleball play.
The Borough engaged Jim McGuire, a professional mediator and Pennington resident. McGuire donated his services as an attorney to the borough in an effort to help resolve the dispute.
McGuire met via Zoom with Hale Street neighbors on Friday, October 8 and with pickleball players Sunday morning, October 10. The meetings yielded a draft mediated agreement detailing schedule, location and pickleball equipment changes. McGuire stated: “We wanted to understand the concerns that the groups faced and we wanted to explore some options for resuming pickleball play in a manner that had less noise impact on the Hale Street neighbors.”
He continued: “The players, to put it succinctly, they want to play. They enjoy it. They found pickleball to be a positive activity. It has been a wonderful outlet as we emerge from the other side of our Covid experience…I understand it has grown from a small group that would meet in the mornings and now has a group of 40 some folks who are participating in pickleball and they are most enthusiastic about that.”
McGuire explained the issues experienced by the Hale Street residents, “On the neighbor side, they are impacted by the noise. They describe the noise as a different type of noise than you would experience from tennis or basketball or lawnmowers or leaf blowers….the pickle ball play is continuous. And it has a pop sound to it when the wiffle-type ball hits the racket.”
After meeting with both groups, McGuire reported an agreement was reached on Monday, October 11 addressing the three main points of contention:
- There would be an experiment using designated quiet balls and paddles to minimize noise for the residents;
- The court would be moved to the center of the parking lot, further away from the neighbors property line;
- The hours of play would be limited to Monday through Friday 11am to 5pm and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.
However, Mayor Davy stated, “this agreement began to unravel the next day.” Davy received emails from both sides that stated concerns about hours, court location, and cost of new equipment. Davy continued working to move the pickleball court further from residents’ property lines by exploring feasibility of the cul-de-sac as an alternate location for play. The current state of the pavement on the cul-de-sac makes pickleball play impossible.
Davy spoke with a Mercer County administrator regarding the road project and priced the project. After totaling the likely expenses associated with repaving the cul-de-sac, plantings for noise abatement, and additional noise buffering, Davy came to a total of $12,500. He pointedly remarked: “I am not suggesting the Council pay a dime to resurface the cul-de-sac. We should put our money into investing into a regulation pickleball court in Kunkle Park.”
In the end, Councilmember Charles “Chico” Marciante explained that negotiations broke down over the schedule. He said that the pickleball players really can’t use the designated court in the Senior Center parking lot because the seniors have a fall schedule that requires increasing use of the parking lot during the hours designated for pickleball by the agreement. The schedule that potentially works for the neighbors will not work for the players or for the seniors.
In the end, Council voted on a resolution to discontinue pickleball play at the Senior Center. That resolution additionally stated that council is authorized to proceed with development of an alternate pickleball site.
The resolution was passed with a 5-1 vote. Marciante was the lone dissenting vote.
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