The Fairfield County Hunt Club on Long Lots Road. / Photo by Thane Grauel
The Fairfield County Hunt Club on Long Lots Road. / Photos by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — Several pickleball court proposals are before various town boards and commissions, and supporters of the emerging sport have been trading volleys with neighbors concerned about noise.

The increasingly popular sport — known not only for the loudness of the equipment used, but the enthusiasm of those playing and watching — has been a concern locally, and nationwide.

Nothing in the town’s zoning regulations regulates pickleball specifically, and there has been no effort to change that.

The sport — a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong — has exploded in popularity in recent years. The public’s demand for places to play far exceeds what town facilities can offer.

That pits participants against neighbors of potential courts.

Neighbors are concerned about plans for six pickleball courts at Longshore Club Park, which is under consideration by the Parks and Recreation Commission. On Thursday, a discussion was postponed because of technical issues.

Neighbors have concerns about the planned location of the courts and want them relocated elsewhere in the park, or to another town property.

Another proposal is for two courts at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, 174 Long Lots Road. There was a discussion last week by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which was continued.

The sprawling Hunt Club at the corner of Long Lots and North Bulkley. / Photo by Thane Grauel
The sprawling Hunt Club at the corner of Long Lots and North Bulkley.

In October 2022, the P&Z finally approved a plan for pickleball courts at Birchwood Country Club off Kings Highway South, but not before several modifications were made to the plan.

And in contrast, a request for a variance to the Zoning Board of Appeals by an Old Hill Road family has received only positive comments from neighbors.

The hearing last week by the P&Z on the hunt club application was not embraced by neighbors, or it seemed, commission members. It was continued to Oct. 16.

Lauren Karpf.
Lauren Karpf

Lauren Karpf, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 7, said at the hearing she represents the neighbors, but also herself in the matter. She had some pointed concerns.

“The sound carries in a very odd way,” she said of the topography. “I hear the amplified music, and it’s constant from hunt club, and the horse shows in the back of my house. I don’t hear it from the front of my house as much.”

“Measuring sound levels from the front might give true readings,” Karpf said.

She said one night she was on Old Orchard Street, a half-mile from the club, when there was a party or wedding, “and I heard every word of that music.”

“That was at 11:15 at night,” she said.

Karpf said events sometimes last late into the night, and that one recent night she couldn’t hear her own television over noise from the event.

Karpf pointed out that the hunt club application differs from the earlier plan approved for Birchwood Country Club, which is bordered on some sides by the Post Road and Riverside Avenue, in addition to residential neighbors.

“This is really smack-dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” she said. “Most of us when we moved in, it was a quiet horse club. There were no field rentals. Pickleball wasn’t really a thing … it’s much louder than tennis or paddle, or the amplified horse shows.”

She asked that if the application wins approval, the P&Z limit hours of play.

“Fourteen hours a day in the summer is craziness,” she said. “I mean really, we will not be able to enjoy our homes.”

Commission member Patrizia Zucaro, who grew up in the neighborhood, agreed. “7 a.m. in the morning is entirely too early,” she said. “That’s just absolutely ridiculous, I can’t even believe it’s before us.”

Walter Derish of Sprucewood Court also had concerns.

“If you have pickleball courts 150 feet from my family room and my back yard, I will not be able to have company over, and I will not be able to entertain, and I will not be able to enjoy my back yard,” he said.

The lawyer for the applicant, John Fallon, argued that the commission approved the Birchwood application, and should show consistency with the hunt club application. He also represented Birchwood.

“I think consistency is important there,” he said.

“One is a country club, one is an equestrian club,” commission Chairwoman Danielle Dobin replied.

“Our special permit uses in Westport articulate quite clearly that adverse impacts on adjacent properties, and potential impacts in terms of property values, are elements that we consider,” Dobin said.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will discuss a request to install a pickleball court at the home at 63 Old Hill Road during its next meeting, online, 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The application by LandTech on behalf of James Coyne for a court within a side setback has attracted nothing but letters of support from neighbors in the Planning and Zoning Department’s records.

63 Old Hill Road. / Photo by Thane Grauel
63 Old Hill Road

“Because of the content of the plans and the application, and my experience with the sport, I am very comfortable expressing support for this project,” wrote an adjoining neighbor, Michael S. Sachs.

“Based on decades of neighborly contacts with the Coyne family, I can vouch for the fact that they both maintain their property impeccably and respect the needs and sensitivities of their neighbors … I therefore without reservation support their application for this variance,” Sachs wrote.

Rob Simmelkjaer of 6 Side Hill Road also wrote a letter in support.

“Based on our review of the plans and application we want to express our support for the construction of the pickleball and associated site improvements,” he wrote. “The Coynes maintain their property very well and we are confident that the pickleball court will be installed with similar care and consideration for the land.”

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.