Some sour on pickleball plan for Springside Park

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PITTSFIELD — A pickleball project at Springside Park has served up a volley of opposing wills.

On one side, the city sits ready to execute a $350,000 pickleball facility for a group of residents enthralled in a sport rapidly growing in popularity.

On the other, groups working on behalf of Springside Park and the Morningside neighborhood say the city is better served by putting money into withering areas of the 275-acre park.

The city proposes spending $52,500 in Community Preservation Act funds toward the project, and is one of 14 under consideration by the city's Community Preservation Committee. Deliberation starts during a meeting on April 22, which also includes a public comment period.

Pickleball is a paddle sport played on a tennis court that also combines elements of Ping-Pong and badminton.

Dozens of players belonging to Berkshire Mountain Pickleball have attended Community Preservation Committee meetings with interest, winning $15,000 in site planning support from the committee during last year's funding cycle.

But project opponents say the city's Community Development Department is catering to a small but vocal segment of the community by taking on this proposal.

The eight-court facility would go on a 0.3-acre parcel in the park's northeast corner, near the Doyle Softball Complex on Benedict Road.

Berkshire Design Group did the project's conceptual plans site investigation work. McGrath said open space, slope and drainage were among the issues considered in siting the project, as well as existing pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

"We really took a considerable amount of time," McGrath said, noting he also helped to identify sites with nearby restrooms.

Lebanon Park also rose to the top of the list of potential homes, he said, but ultimately Springside seemed to them the best fit.

The area of the park is an active athletic hub, he said, noting softball players already getting comfortable at the complex for the spring season.

The city's Park Commission voted 4-1 to endorse the pickleball proposal at Springside, with Joe Durwin casting the sole dissenting vote.

Durwin said stewards with the Springside Park Conservancy were left out of the conversation, and when the project emerged it was "a curveball for a lot of people."

"I think it came to the public eye already sort of prepackaged and already planned out," he said. "There's a group of people that want this facility, and to their credit they've advocated very vocally."

Durwin said he's not against pickleball, but he thinks the sport doesn't serve as wide a cross section of the community as McGrath says it does. He said there are already underlooked activities, like mountain biking, that serve more people and have seen little support.

But McGrath said the city can work simultaneously to spruce up the park and build new amenities, and that's what it's doing. Deferred maintenance happens, he said, but that doesn't mean the city can't also build new facilities.

"It's no fault of anyone's," he said. "It's just sort of where we are."

Still, he said "the city has done an admirable job funding projects at Springside Park," noting $570,000 in funds over the last four years, and $400,000 more for the park in the coming months.

"There has been a healthy amount of investment in Springside Park," he said. "There will continue to be investment in Springside Park."

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A time and place for pickleball

McGrath said the fast-growing sport is accessible to players of all ages.

He also plans to ask the City Council to approve $52,500 on the city side, and will look to fund the rest of the project through a state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant.

He said he's looking to break ground on the project next year.

McGrath said the sport is good for seniors, but that it's growing in popularity across multiple demographics.

"Pickleball is a sport for everyone," he said. "Pickleball is huge — it's not a single demographic sport."

Currently, pickleball players can play at Herberg Middle School and Reid Middle School, whose courts were painted with the sport's unique grids. McGrath said this situation is not ideal, though, as athletes can't use the facilities while school is in session or if the courts are being used for tennis.

"This proposal best addresses the need for this growing sport," he said.

Noise mitigation can be worked into the designs, McGrath said, noting the courts would be about 275 feet away from homes on Bossidy Drive.

"There is community support," McGrath said while gesturing to a couple dozen pickleball players in the audience. "There is interest, and I think it can't be ignored."

But Durwin said the city is pushing this along prematurely, and he hopes people take time to consider whether this is the best use of community preservation funds, as well as state PARC funds. "Can we maintain this when we're not maintaining what we already have?"

He said the project flies afield of the existing plan for Springside, referred to by the Springside Park Conservancy as "a natural and educational park."

An online petition opposing the pickleball proposal had garnered more than 400 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

The Springside Park Conservancy voted unanimously in opposition of the project. In a letter to the committee, they said the pickleball project "is fundamentally inconsistent" with the spirit and specific guidelines within the established master plan for the park.

They said the plan reaches for a balance between maintaining existing recreational facilities and enhancing the park's natural landscape.

"The plan's language is very clear that development of new, single-use athletic courts within Springside is not desired at this time, instead directing attention to restoration and enhancement of existing park components that have languished behind in funding and action for years or decades," members of the conservancy wrote. "It is our feeling the next priority to be considered for Springside should be the restoration of the pond area."

Members of the group Preserve Pittsfield, which advocated for the passage of the Community Preservation Act in Pittsfield in 2016, said they advocated for its passage as a way to confront deferred maintenance and to remedy social inequity underlying the park funding process.

"The proposed pickleball project at Springside, an entirely new amenity that serves a decidedly nondiverse population of residents, achieves neither of these goals," members wrote.

Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon threw her voice alongside those opposing pickleball at the park, saying the master plan reflects years of planning and input from residents. In her own letter to committee members, she wrote that "there lacks sufficient urgency to this proposal to outweigh the strong and widespread opposition and frustration I have heard from constituents in Ward 1 and around the community."

It is my belief that this project needs further vetting and consideration of alternate sites, to make certain it becomes a facility that the whole community views positively," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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