Neighbors come out against pickleball courts at Amherst’s Kiwanis Park

AP

AP AP

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-21-2023 2:56 PM

AMHERST — Planned pickleball courts at Kiwanis Park on Stanley Street are running into opposition from residents who live in a nearby neighborhood, with some expressing concern they weren’t consulted in advance of town officials settling on the location for the project.

“What surprises me about this issue with pickleball is the process,” Carlos Turriago of Willow Lane told the Community Preservation Act Committee last week.  “Decisions have been made, and we were not invited to talk or be informed about this, the community at large.”

The committee is beginning to review a series of spending requests from the CPA account, with $100,000 sought for pickleball courts to supplement $120,000 previously appropriated. The initial request was brought by a group called Friends of Pickleball, with the idea that the three courts would be located at Mill River Recreation Area in North Amherst.

Since then, extensive analysis by the Department of Public Works identified Kiwanis Park as the preferred site. Kiwanis already has a soccer field and softball and baseball diamonds.

But the Misty Meadows Property Association, representing those living on Willow Lane and Tamarack Drive, took a unanimous vote to oppose the pickleball courts.

“We didn’t take that lightly,” said Ryan Harb, who lives on Willow Lane.

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Harb said four issues led to the vote, including worries about noise, parking and traffic, the alteration of existing uses of the property and the potentially negative impact on home values.

“It’s the proper location of the pickleball courts that our community has concerns about,” Harb said.

He cited residential neighborhoods across the country being af fected by pickleball courts. “There’s been a lot of concerns raised and a lot of articles written about it,” Harb said.

Like her husband, Rachel Harb said she is nervous about the project moving forward, including how people with migraines, who often need time to fully rest and recover, will deal with the noise generated by pickleball play.

“I’m not opposed to the game itself, but I don’t believe it should be in a residential area,” said Pat Ononibaku of Tamarack Drive.

Anna Carter, also of Tamarack Drive, said athletic fields are fine for Kiwanis Park, but pickleball courts are not appropriate near homes. “Very increased traffic, very increased noise, are some of the main points we are all concerned with,” Carter said.

The CPA Committee has received at least 28 letters in support of the project.

Carolyn Mailler, who represents the pickleball community, said Kiwanis Park may not be the ideal location, but if no grant is forthcoming, there will be no courts anywhere.

“We have considered abutters at every one of our meetings, and have done research, and have several ideas for mitigating the noise and the other problems,” Mailler said.

Joyce Hatch, another lead supporter, said the game spans generations. “I hope we can find a place that can meet everyone’s concerns,” Hatch said.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said he is commited to meeting with the neighborhood association.

He also cautioned that it is “very early” in the process and that a Planning Board site plan review would be needed once funding is in hand. “Any of these town projects have to go through a rigorous permitting pathway,” Ziomek said.

The courts are planned for a section of the park at the southwest corner, behind the wastewater pump station, which may provide some buffer for the noise.

The concerns over over a possible change in use of property in the neighborhood sank the possibility of a new Department of Public Works headquarters being put on land on South East Street north of Stanley Street and Tamarack Drive, offered to the town by Amherst College as a 99-year lease for $1.

Assistant DPW Superintendent Amy Rusiecki said the best location for building three pickleball courts was determined by town staff.

The Friends of Pickleball’s preferred site, Mill River, would have required removing a significant number of parking spaces, while at Groff Park, it would have been challenging to make the project handicapped accessible. It was also uncertain how pickleball courts would have fit at the Cow Pasture along Sunderland Road.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.