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The City Council chooses to keep courts open as it considers sound mitigation options at the park; councilors reticent to sacrifice other projects for the sake of building new courts 

PMG FILE PHOTO - The city of Lake Oswego wants to explore the idea of placing a dome around the George Rogers Park pickleball courts.

As a way to shield nearby residents from the incessant noise of pickleball play, Lake Oswego City Council expressed intrigue about the idea of placing a dome around the courts — or adding sound absorption panels — at George Rogers Park.

During a special meeting Monday, Nov 14, the council voted to keep the courts open while canceling all city-run pickleball activities there as staff explore the possibility of a dome. Further, even though the task force the city enlisted recommended three alternative pickleball sites as possibilities, the council seemed hesitant about the idea of spending millions of dollars to develop new courts — particularly in a time of accelerating costs and when ambitious new facilities such as the future Lake Oswego Recreation and Aquatic Center and Rassekh Park are in the works. And staff indicated that the city only has so much money to build new facilities, thus necessitating the council to prioritize projects.

"The reality is right now … with the bids we're seeing on capital projects, we can't afford to build the projects we currently have underway under the (2019 parks) bond. We don't have enough money to build Rassekh, the (revamped) golf course and LORAC today," City Manager Martha Bennett said.

The city initiated the process of identifying a new location for pickleball courts after neighbors in the Old Town neighborhood testified that the noise deriving from players whacking the pickleballs back and forth throughout the day proved debilitating.

The task force's highest-rated options for a new pickleball facility included vacant lots on SW Pilkington Road and SW Rosemont Street and the Hazelia Dog Park (which would require moving the dog park to Luscher Farm). Parks and Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm said it could take 16-24 months to develop new courts if the council goes in that direction.

Councilor Aaron Rapf felt there was little cost in keeping the courts open as the city gathers more information and makes a firm decision on how to proceed.

"No one is going to be playing pickleball or tennis until the first week of February, if we're lucky. We don't need to shut down. No one is going to be there anyway," he said.

Mayor Joe Buck disagreed with the council's stance that it should keep courts open in the meantime and said that pickleball should never have been allowed at George Rogers Park.

"The fact remains the courts should not have been pickleball. I don't feel in good conscience (we should) continue to support something we know is making residents miserable," he said.

Councilor Rachel Verdick also wanted to disallow pickleball at the park for the time being, while the other councilors favored keeping the courts open. Verdick noted that George Rogers Park affords not even a third of the recommended buffer between courts and residences (150 feet) per the task force's criteria.

"I don't know how in good conscience we can keep those courts open now," she said.

Old Town neighbors recently sent a letter to the city threatening legal action if it continues to keep the courts open.

Councilor Massene Mboup felt that any decision made should be based on science and not on emotional pleas of residents.

"How can we mitigate the sound so it goes like tennis? If it cannot be like tennis, we close the courts," he said.

Staff members indicated that sound-absorption panels could reduce the noise by around 25 decibels and they needed to look further at the possibility of a dome.

"If our parks and rec department says we can put up sound mitigation that can … solve the problem of the neighborhood of the noise, we have an obligation to do that now. Let's just do it," Rapf said, adding that he did not want to sacrifice any current parks projects to develop a new pickleball facility.

Council President John Wendland noted that recently-implemented city projects such as the recreation and aquatic center and revamped tennis and adult community centers took decades to come together.

"In government work, there's limited resources. For this project to be accelerated as quickly as it has, I would say it is very unusual," he said.

Rapf also commented on the challenge of making a decision like this, which he described as a no-win situation.

"If you would have asked me two years ago, 'What's the hardest thing you're going to have to do as a council member,' I would say annexing land. I never thought we would be so divided as a community talking about pickleball," he said.

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