In the court of public opinion, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Pickleball Club is definitely a winner.
In the court in Welland, however, it lost.
People love the game for its exercise, camaraderie and fun.
And most everyone to whom our reporters have spoken supported the club in its legal dispute with a resident who complained about excessive noise caused by pickleball players.
But barring a costly, likely drawn-out appeal, unfortunately, none of that matters.
The provincial offences court has ruled that the Town of NOTL and the pickleball club violated the town’s own noise bylaw and must cease and desist.
The court said the outdoor courts at Centennial Sports Park in Virgil cannot be used for pickleball due to the excessive noise it generates. And the town and the club must pay fines of $1,000 each.
We learned a long time ago that it’s a mugg’s game to try to predict the outcome of any court case (the law is complex and judges are learned), but this judgment was still a surprise.
The evidence of the noise levels was compelling (yes, pickleball’s repeated “plonk, plonk” can be loud and annoying) but most of us felt, even though the sport moved in after the residents were already there, this was all occurring in a park designed for outdoor sports.
That mattered not to Justice of the Peace Mary Shelley, who declared the town and the club violated the noise bylaw.
To her credit, before she took the parties to court, the complainant, Oana Scafesi, had sought remedies from the town to reduce the noise and her discomfort. But that never happened.
Hence a court case that we expect will get the attention of municipalities and pickleball clubs near and far for what is acceptable noise and what must be done to mitigate or avoid complaints.
Now, social media keyboard warriors and those who sit in the court of public opinion can rail and complain about the perceived absurdity or unfairness of this court ruling. However, the fact remains that a member of the judiciary ruled on points of law, not emotion. While we don’t have to like or support the decision, we do need to respect it.
So, what next?
An appeal would take many months to wend its way through the process and there is no guarantee the appeal would even be heard, let alone be successful.
Perhaps this is a moment for the Town of NOTL to examine the layout of the sports park and determine whether there is a more suitable spot for outdoor pickleball courts to be installed.
Or choose another location in town where that “plonk, plonk” noise can be mitigated and pickleballers can play to their hearts’ content.
What definitely should not happen is our community cannot let the cash-strapped, non-profit pickleball club bear the brunt of the financial burden imposed by the court. The club has a year to pay the $1,000 fine – equal to about half its current bank balance, court was told. The penalty could devastate the club financially.
So, we hope that the good, generous folks of NOTL will band together to fundraise – whether by a modern GoFundMe campaign or otherwise – and ensure the future of the club, help it pay the fine and support it in working with the town to set up a new location to play a game that has so many obvious benefits.
Don’t let this be the end of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Pickleball Club.