By DANIEL SUTPHIN Staff Writer May 20, 2019
PUNTA GORDA — The pickleball courts at Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda will be closed this week while the city installs a sound-abatement fence to reduce noise complaints.
The courts are scheduled to reopen Friday, weather permitting.
Noise stemming from play at the courts has been at the center of controversy among some Historic District homeowners along West Retta Esplanade, pickleball players and the City Council since December 2018. That’s when council members decided to close the courts for two days at Christmas, only to reverse that decision in a special meeting a few days later.
Since that special meeting, the City Council has approved multiple strategies to dampen pickleball noise, including the sound abatement fence, commonly called an “acoustifence.”
For homeowners, the issue goes back to when the courts opened in 2015.
“We’ve been fighting this for years now and it seems to be going nowhere,” said Christy Federici, who lives across the street from the courts. “It was delightful this morning (with the courts closed). I didn’t get woken up at 8 a.m. with the banging (of pickleballs). It’s unfortunate for the acoustifence because it’s going to look horrible.”
Avid pickleballer and Punta Gorda resident Sue Carmen is happy the city is making moves to resolve the issues at Gilchrist.
“I can’t answer for the entire pickleball community,” Carmen said, “but personally I’m happy that the city is providing a sound fence so that the neighbors will no longer have sound issues. If it means missing a week of play, I (would) gladly do that so everyone can enjoy the outcome and Gilchrist Park.”
In February, the City Council approved the purchase and development of two, 10-foot-tall sound barrier walls along the southwest sides of the eight courts to be funded through the city’s 1-percent sales tax.
The city contracted ERS Construction of Charlotte County for the project, which is expected to cost just over $35,000, according to City Communications Manager Melissa Reichert.
The city’s plan also includes restricting parking on the grass at Gilchrist and forming a committee to determine long-term solutions for keeping the game within the city limits but potentially out of Gilchrist Park.
On March 6, the City Council established its pickleball committee as a fact-finding initiative. The committee wants to conduct a noise impact study, and has 90 days to collect and present its findings to the city.
Access to the Gilchrist courts could have some interruptions in the near future as the city begins renovating more of the park, tentatively scheduled for August.
“There will be no direct effect on the renovations or access to the courts,” Reichert said. “As the park is being developed, there will continue to be access to the courts and the playground. There will be a few limited times when the courts and the (Gilchrist Park) playground will be closed for drainage work and elevation changes, etc. Those times should be limited to one or two day closures only.”
City staff expects to close four of the eight courts — those closest to Charlotte Harbor — upon the opening of Pickleplex of Punta Gorda at Florida Southwestern State College, which was last reported to be in May.
Pickleplex has yet to open and an official opening date was not available Monday.