A screenshot of Monday's pickleball discussion by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
A screenshot of Monday’s pickleball discussion by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — Birchwood Country Club has received approval to to add three pickleball courts to its 80-acre facility off Kings Highway South.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted Monday to approve the plan, which had been opposed by neighbors based mainly on concerns about the noise the popular new sport creates.

Five courts had originally been planned not far from neighbors on the western end of the club’s grounds.

After considerable opposition and dueling acoustical studies, and with commission members urging the club to find a better location, the courts were whittled down to three and moved several hundred feet from the neighbors.

The vote to approve the revised plan came during a work session so there was no public comments Monday.

Commission Chairwoman Danielle Dobin said she struggled with the issue because of feedback from the neighbors.

“But we very pointedly asked the country club to relocate the courts to a better, improved location that would be quieter, and they did actually that,” she said.

She said the courts now will be built farther from neighbors, and that should help mitigate noise.

“In the end what it came down to for me is the fact that pickleball is legal in Westport,” Dobin said. “Anybody can put a pickleball court in their own back yard without any sort of a special permit, or any permission at all from P&Z, as long as they have sufficient coverage to do so.”

“Because of that I didn’t feel that we even had a legal foot to stand on with regard to telling them when they have so much coverage available to them, that they couldn’t install these courts after they had relocated them and taking so many steps to ensure that it wouldn’t be the same noise impact on the neighbors as where they had previously put them.”

“As much as I wish we could do more to protect these specific neighbors, I don’t think that the law is on our side to do so, and I do think the country club is trying to be a good neighbor,” Dobin said.

Commission member Paul Lebowitz said he also struggled with the issue.

“But it was very compelling in the meeting that we discussed after they moved it, that it was in fact a huge difference from where it was in the first place,” he said. “So, moving it forward to 500 feet from the nearest house and having the decibel level drop to what may end up being conversation level or less, to me was compelling.”

“And that’s the idea,” Lebowitz said. “That’s why we bring experts in front of us, so we can make a good decision.”

Member Neil Cohn said he was initially opposed to the plan, but the changes and the legal situation swayed him.

“I think that, at this point, we have the best result that we can get,” he said.  

Members Jon Olefson, Michael Cammeyer, Dobin, Lebowitz and Cohn voted in favor. Amie Tesler abstained.

Thane Grauel, executive editor, grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond more than three decades. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.