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Pickleball Controversy in South Burlington Over Peace

Pickleball Controversy in South Burlington: In South Burlington, Vermont, the arrival of pickleball at Szymanski Park has stirred unexpected controversy, disrupting the peaceful life longtime resident Jovana Guarino once cherished. What began as a recreational addition has evolved into a battle over noise, safety, and community consultation, propelling Guarino into her first political activism. This clash reflects broader tensions between local development and resident well-being, highlighting the challenges cities face in balancing recreational expansion with neighborhood harmony.

Tranquil Haven Disturbed

Jovana Guarino, a resident of South Burlington for over three decades, once found solace in the city’s serene ambiance—until pickleball arrived. The incessant “pop-pop-pop” of pickleball games at Szymanski Park has shattered her peace, making everyday joys like gardening and leisurely walks impossible amidst the monotonous sound that permeates her home.

Despite avoiding political engagements, Guarino’s life has been so disrupted that she now stands before City Council and committees, petitioning to relocate pickleball from Szymanski Park to Dorset Park. Her petition has garnered nearly 60 signatures, marking her unexpected foray into local politics.

Born in the 1960s, pickleball has surged in popularity across America, celebrated for its accessibility and spirited matches. However, its hard plastic paddles and distinctive “click-clack” ball have accidentally turned Szymanski Park into a battleground of noise, challenging Guarino’s daily tranquility.

“This is my first political adventure, I have never done anything like this before. I’ve never even spoken publicly until I spoke at the City Council meeting.” – (Jovana Guarino)

A Community Divided

The installation of four pickleball courts at Szymanski Park in 2022, amidst pandemic delays, reflects the city’s efforts to adapt recreational spaces. Yet, the decision has sparked safety concerns and parking woes for residents like Guarino, who fear for their children’s safety amidst the influx of visitors.

“Fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, from March possibly until the end of November. We cannot suffer this. This neighborhood has been turned on its head. I can tell you, it has made my life a living … I won’t say the word.” – (Jovana Guarino)

While city officials acknowledge public outcry, discussions around pickleball’s future at Szymanski Park remain controversial. Guarino presses forward, determined to restore peace and safety for her community, challenging the decisions made without full resident consultation.

“The courts are relatively new to Szymanski Park, but the pickleball conversation really began ramping up in the city before the pandemic.” Mentioned Adam Matth, the city’s director of recreation and parks.

“It was during 2018 and 2019 in the recreation committee. Through public feedback, there was the interest to look into doing pickleball courts. Obviously, Szymanski is the only location where we have previously made tennis courts and the easy ability to adjust to pickleball courts. But then obviously Covid happened and stalled some of the projects.” – (Adam Matth)

In autumn 2022, the city converted a single tennis court into four pickleball courts, an initiative that incurred approximately $20,000 in expenses. This endeavor was part of the recreation department’s broader capital improvement plan, which encompassed multiple projects, including the resurfacing of the basketball court and the remaining tennis court within the same period.

However, for Guarino, beyond the noise issue, the dearth of parking space and the influx of visitors rushing in from neighboring towns to avail themselves of the free facilities have posed significant safety hazards, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists.

“If the city had researched the available parking at the park, they would have realized putting four pickleball courts there was well beyond the parking capacity of the neighborhood infrastructure. I have an autistic child who lives with me who is 10. It’s not safe walking to and from school because of cars being clocked at 40 miles an hour.” – (Guarino)

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Voices of Concern

Residents like Mike Gratz echo Guarino’s frustrations, highlighting safety hazards and neighborhood disruptions caused by speeding cars and boisterous players. Their concerns show a broader community rift over the park’s transformation without adequate public input.

Likewise, longtime resident Mike Gratz, who has resided in the nearby area for ten years, has firsthand experiences of the reckless drivers on Andrews Avenue. These drivers, often equipped with their pickleball gear, frequently display gestures with their middle fingers and use aggressive language when neighbors request them to slow down.

“I believe that by not advocating for or speaking up against the issue of the pickleball courts at Szymanski, it’ll continue to be at the expense and safety of my family, my neighbors and the dozen or so preschool to middle school-aged kids who live within a one block radius of the park. It’s unfortunate that in a few short years, the safety and serenity the neighborhood once provided has been completely destroyed. Following the city’s decision to modify one of the park’s tennis courts to pickleball courts, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the issues, concerns and disruption they would have brought.” – (Mike Gratz)

Matth noted that the recreation committee and department have received extensive feedback from the public in recent months concerning the pickleball courts. These discussions have expanded into broader deliberations as the committee works on finalizing its parks master plan, scheduled for release this summer.

This will also look at how all of our parks are utilized, and the best fit for all of them.” – (Adam Matth)

However, for Guarino and possibly other signatories of the petition, the presence of pickleball at Szymanski Park must be eliminated.

“I will advocate for it to go. I’ll stand up legally for it to go.” – (Guarino)

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News in Brief: Pickleball Controversy in South Burlington

Jovana Guarino’s peaceful existence in South Burlington has been shattered by the relentless sound of pickleball at Szymanski Park. Her efforts to petition for its relocation to Dorset Park underscore a community divided over the unintended consequences of recreational development.

With concerns ranging from noise pollution to safety hazards, residents like Guarino and Mike Gratz seek to reclaim their neighborhood’s tranquility amidst ongoing debates and city planning initiatives. The outcome remains uncertain as stakeholders navigate conflicting interests in pursuit of a resolution that preserves recreation and residential peace.

Our Reader’s Queries

Q. Why is pickleball gaining in popularity so quickly?

A. Pickleball stands out for its versatility; makeshift courts can pop up on driveways or cul-de-sacs using just sidewalk chalk, painter’s tape, and a portable net. The equipment—paddles and balls—is budget-friendly. Moreover, it’s simpler to pick up and slower-paced compared to tennis.

Q. What is pickleball and why do people love it?

A. Pickleball merges tennis, badminton, and ping-pong with a paddle and a plastic ball featuring holes. It’s suitable for all ages and skill levels, thanks to straightforward rules that make it an ideal introductory sport.

ALSO READ: Forestport Pickleball Players Shine at Empire State Senior Games

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