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Pickleball, tennis dispute packs Courtenay council chambers

If it wasn’t exactly like the feudin’ Hatfields and McCoys, it was pretty darn close.
A pickleball court is much smaller than a tennis court. The layout drawing shows how four pickleball courts can fit into the space occupied by one tennis court. Each sport requires an over-run safety buffer that would have to be shared in this configuration.

If it wasn’t exactly like the feudin’ Hatfields and McCoys, it was pretty darn close.

Although no shootin’ irons came out at Monday night’s Courtenay council meeting, there was plenty of racket.

Members of the Comox Valley Tennis Club and the Comox Valley Pickleball Association squared off over the issue of court lines.

The council chambers were so jammed with people that the overflow had to be sent into the main city hall lobby to keep an exit clear.

The problem? The pickleball players want to paint their sport’s court lines on some of Courtenay’s existing tennis courts.

The tennis players say that will ruin their sport and make it impossible to hold any sanctioned tournaments.

Both groups are agreed, though, that playing surfaces at both Lewis Park and Martin Park need major work because of large surface cracks. In the latter case, the sports box there is used by beginner pickleball players along with road hockey. But the surfacing material is not conducive to more advanced pickleball play.

The city is in the midst now of preparing a recreation master plan, with public input sessions set for the fall.

The regional district recently completed an indoor recreation facilities master plan, which recommends a task force be established to bring both pickleball and tennis together to look at solutions.

The Town of Comox has also been heavily lobbied by pickleball players wanting a facility for their sport.

Tony Wong, president of the tennis club, said his club supports all types of physical activity. But, he said, it didn’t make sense to take away tennis facilities at Lewis Park.

His club’s membership has gone up by 35 per cent, and is approaching 260 members, including 62 junior members.

Tennis club member Shirley Kirk told council “it’s not about sharing, but maintaining the integrity of both sports”.

She cited correspondence from numerous Island tennis clubs about the problems of sharing court space with pickleball.

“Pickleball-tennis conflict is an issue in many communities,” she said.

Separate pickleball courts are best, she added.

Wong said the issue has “nothing to do with the willingness to share or not … pickleball lines will ruin the sport of tennis.”

“In summary, based on lessons learned from other communities, painting lines on tennis courts is a bad idea,” he said.

Wong said his club is fully willing to support surface upgrades at Martin Park for the pickleball players.

“I appreciate that people have a great deal of passion about this and it is a problem we have to solve,” said Counc. Doug Hillian, adding that his daughter described it as a “first world problem”.

“This is one of the largest public galleries we’ve had … we’ve talked about homelessness, zoning, other issues,” he said. “I’ll take as a positive, that we have a very active, involved community.”

Hillian, suggested, though, that those energies be harnessed “in a positive way”, citing some emails he had received that contained “insulting comments regarding one of our city staff.”

Pickleball association president Steve Chambers said the Valley has no designated pickleball courts.

“There are 70 locations for pickleball on Vancouver Island. Of those 70, we have zero in the Comox Valley,” he said.

He said numerous communities in B.C. have painted pickleball lines on tennis courts, “and somehow they’ve made it work.”

Chambers said the Valley’s tennis courts weren’t being used to their fullest capacity by tennis players.

“In terms of usage, there is more than three times the time of pickleball play at Lewis Park,” he said.

“Please paint some lines on one or two tennis courts … or tell us why we’re so different,” Chambers added.

Dave Snider, the city’s recreation director, told council that the pilot project of using tape to mark off pickleball courts at Lewis Centre “has yielded the highest number of concerns and complaints that I’ve seen in my civil servant career.”

“Pickleball is an emerging sport in BC and is continuing to be a fast growing sport in North America,” he wrote in his briefing note to council. “Tennis is also experiencing a growth period in Canada and the Comox Valley. Both sports share a similar need for smooth and consistent outdoor surfaces. The only courts in Courtenay that serve the needs of both sports are the four courts at Lewis Park.”

Snider noted that the tennis club in the past has donated funds for the improvement of facilities including equipment, court upgrades and lighting.

“No similar offer has been received from pickleball to date,” he added.

Snider said city staff have asked both the pickleball and tennis clubs to participate in the city’s recreation master plan process and also the proposed taskforce identified by the regional district.

“This is intended to provide a fair and open facilitated dialogue for the resolution of these conflicts,” he wrote.

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