Pickleball expansion not as simple as Longboat hoped

Editor & Publisher

The tricky Commission Chamber volley between pickleball and tennis will return to Longboat Key at a Monday meeting.

The commission, at the urging of island pickleball aficionados, has been and is trying to find a way to add courts at Bayfront Park while not at the expense of tennis players.

The problem began about a year ago when pickleballers approached the town urging the construction of additional facilities based on the high demand at the single dedicated pickleball court at Bayfront Park.

Initially, the town created a multi-use court by adding pickleball stripes on one of the two existing courts at the park, which created what could be referred to as a ‘multi-use’ situation.

The way it works is tennis players must play with an overlay of distracting pickleball lines and pickleballers can move two rolling nets and create a pair of makeshift courts. That act by the town left one dedicated tennis court remaining at Bayfront, one dedicated pickleball court, and the multi-use court. But that was not enough.

Last winter, the pickleballers returned looking for additional courts and citing the skyrocketing popularity of the sport, which is less physically demanding than tennis and lends itself to Longboat Key’s demographic.

That request led the town to consider building either six or eight new pickleball courts next to the Public Tennis Center, which is situated on town-owned land to the north and south of the post office near Publix. That suggestion was met with both resistance and a commensurate petition against the idea.

By late spring, scores of tennis players petitioned the town to not add pickleball ae the Public Tennis Center site and the opponents maintained that the sound and interference was incompatible with the concentration necessary for tennis. Additionally, the noise, which emanates from the hard paddles striking the balls, could affect the neighboring residential community to the north which is separated by a thin vegetative buffer. But the opposition was not without a proffered solution.

The opponents suggested that the town convert the two existing tennis courts at Bayfront Park to pickleball and build two new hard-surfaced courts at the Tennis Center. The plan appealed to the commission in that it maintained the same level of service for island tennis players and met the needs of the emerging pickleball community.

But the solution has proven not viable. Before taking their summer break, the Commissioners instructed Town Manager Tom Harmer to perform the necessary measurements and fieldwork, study the situation and obtain costs to accomplish the plan. In short, the plan is not viable.

The first problem, according to Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman, is there is nowhere to relocate storm water runoff. There is not enough buffering between any potential courts and the Neptune Residential neighborhood and there would be a potential impact to the existing lease with the Longboat Library. Additionally, the cost would be north of $125,000 to build two courts and that does not count the expense of ADA accessibility or necessary parking improvements.

Another dilemma is that the desired eight courts cannot be fit on the existing two tennis courts at Bayfront Park. According to the United States of America Pickeball Association, the minimum size necessary for a pickleball court is 30 feet wide by 60 feet long.

The Association says that 34-feet by 64-feet is preferred. Using the minimum dimensions, only six pickleball courts will fit in the current tennis court area at Bayfront Park. Further, there is no additional room to add court space without disrupting the park, promenade and other amenities.


Other options…

This information left town staff now suggesting the Commission consider various other options including the use of Joan M. Durante Park to build either new tennis courts or to build the eight pickleball courts. The use of another location has merit in that it could accommodate the originally-desired eight courts for pickleball and allow room for expansion in case pickleball continues to be popular.

Also, it would allow tennis to remain at Bayfront Park where it has been played for decades and is well used.

Durante Park is zoned as Open Space Passive and the town attorney has yet to conclude as of press time whether the addition of active recreation is permissible.

Town staff is also suggesting the possibility of other town-owned property as potential sites for either tennis or pickleball, including land owned between Spanish Main and Emerald Harbour.

Harmer said the town has not performed any analysis or formal study of the actual usage or demand of either pickleball or tennis players at Bayfront Park and the proposals and direction have been based on the urgings of the users and anecdotal statements.

One point made by Harmer is that numerous condominiums and residential communities including The Longboat Key Club & Resort have added pickleball on their respective properties. The emergence of additional private-sector pickleball courts has not been factored in the discussion and there’s been no inventory taken of either pickleball or tennis courts on Longboat Key.

For those interested in the pickleball/tennis discussion, it is on the Commission agenda for their meeting to be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9, in Town Hall.

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