Sellwood pickleball court renovation sparks controversy
Earlier this year, players of the paddleball game "pickleball" told THE BEE in a feature article just how much they enjoyed this relatively new outdoor sport in Sellwood Park, setting up their equipment on tennis courts located there.
At that time, PDX Pickleball Club's president Nisa' Haron told of their group's effort to rehabilitate and repurpose what it considered a long-disused tennis court in Sellwood Park for pickleball; the court is located directly behind the Sellwood Pool.
"These courts have been ignored for so many years," said club member Cathy Owen, standing in the court itself in mid October. "The surface has not been maintained, perhaps for decades, leaving it with huge cracks, and weeds causing tripping hazards." However at least one local tennis player insisted he was regularly using it at a recent SMILE meeting devoted to an airing of this matter.
"We've raised about $9,000 to buy supplies for resurfacing these courts, with our club members providing the labor," Owen told THE BEE. "We saw this as win-win-win scenario for Sellwood Park, Portland Parks & Recreation, and our growing pickleball community, now with 300 members in our club, to restore these courts."
They say they had received informal approval for the idea from Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) personnel which they'd come across in the park, so they started on June 24. The volunteers began by completing a "proof of concept" in one quadrant of the double tennis court, showing that they had the skills and the right materials to resurface the court.
"We were pleased, and the staff at the park seemed happy with the progress â€“ but we did not have any agreement with Portland Parks and Recreation to allow such volunteer work," Owen conceded.
Volunteers locked out
"Then, on July 9, we were informed by PP&R that nothing whatsoever could take place on a Parks Bureau tennis court without a 'process' [of approval], and approval by the Portland Tennis Center.
"This was a real loss, because when we were kept out of the courts â€“ with lock and chains â€“ we'd not yet weatherized the entire court's surface yet; so all the work that we had done was at risk, once the weather changed to wet cold weather."
Wanting to finish the work they'd started, the group was told to obtain a "NPUP" (Non-Public Use Permit) Application; and pay a non-refundable $1,000 fee for their volunteers to continue rehabilitating this PP&R facility at their own expense. The club sent in the application in on July 19.
Finally on September 30, the NPUP permit was approved by City of Portland Attorney's office; the gates were opened, and work started on October 1. With the help of large "work parties" of volunteers, the surface of the upper tennis court was indeed weatherized. However, the onset of wet weather has halted furthering the project for the time being.
Tennis vs. pickleball
Over the summer the club kept advocating for the resurfaced area to become dedicated pickleball courts. "When we called PP&R near the end of August, 2021, we learned that we'd have to wait for their 'Emerging Sports Survey' to be completed," Owen said.
"However, speaking with PP&R Planner Katie Dunham, she told me that, because of its four tennis courts, Sellwood Park is considered to be a 'Community Tennis Hub'; and, that they were not interested in having dedicated pickleball courts here," she said.
Part of the Parks Bureau concern is that the courts are used for high school tennis competitions. And, local tennis players insist that they use these courts much more frequently than the pickleball advocates say they do.
"We came up with a compromise that leaves both tennis players and pickleball players not so happy; but, it is a compromise," Owen said.
The result is a "blended" project, with two tennis courts painted prominently for tennis â€“ but also with lines painted within them for use as eight pickleball courts. In an extended discussion of this issue, involving both pickleball players and tennis players at SMILE, the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood association, the SMILE Board did not take a side in the matter because the informal volunteer renovation had admittedly occurred without the group having approached PP&R for official approval of the project beforehand.
You can follow the local pickleball club online â€“ pdxpickleballclub.com
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