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BEHIND THE SCENES: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (as any pickleball player knows)

Council votes to receive staff report at committee of the whole meeting; will now vote on the reopening at the April 30 regular council meeting

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on's Mike Balsom, whose story 'One more net to jump for outdoor pickleball approval' was published on April 18.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:​-

The outdoor pickleball courts are just one final council vote away from officially being approved for reopening. 

Council accepted a staff recommendation to reopen the Virgil sports park courts in a near-unanimous vote at Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting. Sandra O’Connor was the lone councillor to vote against receiving the report.   

The main issue for O’Connor was the lack of direct engagement between town staff and the residents of nearby Lambert’s Walk prior to the report being received at the committee meeting.

The outdoor courts were ordered closed for two years by Provincial Court Justice of the Peace Mary Shelly in 2022. In hearing a complaint by Lambert’s Walk resident Oana Scafesi, Shelly found that the decibel levels from pickleball play were in violation of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s noise bylaw. The ban ends on June 15, 2024.

Earlier this year, council approved an amendment to the Town’s noise bylaw that would exempt recreational activities on town-owned properties from the restrictions. 

The report accepted by council at the committee of the whole meeting recommends the installation of sound barriers to reflect noise away from the residential area and a reduction in the permitted time of play at the park to between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

NOTL’s manager of parks and recreation Kevin Turcotte attended the meeting remotely. He confirmed to O’Connor that to date there had been no direct engagement between the town and the Lambert’s Walk residents about the reopening plans. 

“In the revision, sounds coming from a town-owned property from recreational activities are exempt based on the approval of the director of operations or designate,” Turcotte explained. “From my department’s view, pickleball would be an activity we would permit to occur in that area. If it’s the will of council to do some engagement, we are happy to take that direction.”

O’Connor responded by pointing out that a later item on the meeting’s agenda was a community engagement report by staff to council.

“The report states that we take pride in our thoughtful and dynamic community engagement efforts,” said O’Connor. “I think this is one where that should apply because of the history, and because we are doing noise mitigation. That’s a positive thing and I think we should engage our residents to let them know about it.”

She asked for an amendment to the motion to accept the report that would include direct engagement with the nearby residents. 

Counc. Erwin Wiens spoke against any amendment. “This (situation) was very public both locally and internationally,” Wiens said, referring to the attention the court decision received across Canada and the United States. “I think there’s been enough engagement with pickleball and what we want to do here. If a resident is opposed to pickleball, there’s a certain obligation on our residents to also be engaged. We support pickleball, and I don’t want to delay this.”

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa added that like Wiens, he was happy with the level of engagement with the community to date. “I don’t feel it’s necessary to go out and re-engage on a specific issue like this,” said Zelepa. “I’m comfortable with the direction given to the manager of parks and recreation to manage the situation properly.”

Interim CAO Bruce Zvaniga added that the report included a provision that following council’s approval to reopen the courts, “staff will collaborate with the communications team to disseminate information through the town’s website and social media channels and signs would be created to provide instructions on site.” 

“We will plan to do a comprehensive communications package,” confirmed Zvaniga. 

O’Connor’s motion for an amendment was voted down by council. Shortly after, the motion to accept the staff report as is was accepted, with O’Connor the sole dissenting vote. 

Council is expected to give final approval to the reopening of the courts at the next regular council on April 30. The courts would then be scheduled to open to the NOTL Pickleball Club members as well as any resident of NOTL on June 17.