Newport is in a pickle.
Pickleball has become so popular – and so loud – that the Newport City Council will likely vote to ban it from being played from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. on tennis courts at Hunter and Vernon parks.
That vote will come at a second hearing on Aug. 10.
In an equally noisy public hearing to consider the resolution on July 27, the council heard from players and neighbors who provided lively testimony to this pickle. The discussion stemmed from a memo by city manager Joe Nicholson, Jr. that noted the rapidly-growing game on courts that are sometimes within 10 feet of residences, resulting in a noisy impact on neighbors.
Mona Barbera, of Newport, volleyed, “The play is constant, up to five games, maybe 20 people. Pickleball is unique in two ways. One, it has a plastic ball and hollow racket and a kind of electrical popping sound.
“The culture is similar to that in bleachers. The shouting is coming from the players. But just like bleachers, where people are completely free to express their joy and despair in guttural verbal production,” she said.
She said some courts are just five feet from residences. “I’ve been informed from a city official that the current standard is 375 feet from residences,” she said.
Barbera’s husband, Monk, added, “It’s like being in a locker room in high school, with sound through the windows and the doors. We are putting air conditioners in [just to muffle the sound]. We are 20 feet from the court. My hope is that someday they get removed and they bring back tennis. We love tennis. People are respectful and quiet. I share the joy and enthusiasm of the pickleball people, but it really does need to be removed from a residential area.”
Vice Chair Lynn Ceglie offered to allow tennis to be played on the same courts without hourly restrictions. “I understand that pickleball is a noisy sport, and tennis is not,” she said.
“I play tennis, and I play pickleball and tennis is not as loud as pickleball,” said Fred Yates of Portsmouth. “But it’s still loud.”
Yates said he wouldn’t remove tennis from the overnight ban. Of its competitor, he said, “It needs to be monitored, with a uniform set of hours. You need to find out if [they are] out-of-towners, young kids, or middle-aged or old people doing it. Everybody has a different opinion of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m appalled that anybody doesn’t abide by the rules.”
Yates suggested fines be city levied, not just a “slap on the wrist.”
“We learn as we go along and perhaps, they need to be removed from residential areas,” Ceglie said. “We are working on making things better.”
She added that police can’t enforce the times without an ordinance.
Kendra Munter, a tennis player, wanted tennis removed from the proposed ordinance.
“I have never had complaints,” she said. “We are very respectful to the neighbors. We come in; we play our game. We are not hanging out for the day. We’re in, we’re out, we’re done, we’re quiet.
“Technically, pickleball shouldn’t be played on the courts together. It’s a different court altogether.”
Amy Machado, of Newport, her doubles partner, held serve, adding there simply are not enough courts. “We need other communities to put in courts,” she said. “Middletown is doing that, I believe,”
But Lynne Eagles, a pickleball player, countered, “We are not abusing the rules . . . We are all people who are enjoying the game. Tennis is definitely quieter. We try to get off the courts to let them have it. The courts are crowded. Basically, we need new courts where the sound can be tolerated.”
Middletown has three designated courts for both sports, she said. “The higher the level of play, the quieter it gets,” she said. “There are 4.6 million playing pickleball in the United States. And we have to find a place to do it without annoying the neighbors.”
Councilor Charlie Holder asked Nicholson if the city had looked exclusively for a spot for pickleball courts. A little miffed, Nicholson said, “I don’t want to sound facetious here, but it has taken us five years to find a place for a basketball court.”
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