Developers Still Set on Eight Courts

April 25, 2024
• Despite a call for a reduction in proposed tennis courts, the town returned to the Planning Board Wednesday with updates to its eight-court plan for Needham High School, which divided some community members.

The town intends to repair the existing four courts and construct four additional courts on the adjacent field. Town Meeting will decide whether to appropriate $2.6 million to the project. The first night of Town Meeting is May 6.

In a continued public hearing, town officials and architecture partner Activitas presented revised schematics for a possible tennis court rebuild and redesign at NHS. At its first hearing earlier this month, abutters voiced concern about pickleball players and the disruption associated with the sport, but now that the town plans to forbid pickleball on the courts, they’ve turned their sights to other concerns.

The Park and Recreation Commission voted Tuesday to remove the pickleball lines already present on two of the courts, Park and Recreation Director Stacey Mulroy said.

Wednesday, the board heard support both for and against the eight courts.

In a letter to the board, Ryan Madden, the director of athletics at Needham Public Schools, wrote that eight courts would allow teams to host matches, junior varsity and varsity to play together and the community to better schedule play time. Mulroy also defended the eight courts, citing the potential for growth in the department’s summer tennis camp, which frequently reaches capacity and has to waitlist people.

But a group of nearby residents, instead, are suggesting six courts or fewer.

Two of the four tennis courts at Needham High School are lined for pickleball in blue. In their current state, the courts are not used by the school tennis teams. (Cameron Morsberger)

Julia Salamone, who lives behind the courts on Rosemary Street, said she and her neighbors expected to see a six-court plan at the hearing, after a Planning Board request. While she recognizes the desire for eight, Salamone suggested placing new courts somewhere that will impact fewer abutters.

She called eight courts “quite luxurious.”

“This is one particular place that has a lot of different interests,” Salamone said, “and it seems like a lot of space devoted to one particular sport, one particular function, when there’s also some benefits to possibly maintaining that green space… Eight is a facility, and it is a luxury to have something like that while a lot of other people in situations are being displaced because of it.”

Several other Rosemary Street residents signed a letter listing a number of concerns, one being the number of courts. Expanding the courts would take the open field away from some users, they wrote, and the four NHS tennis teams would only play in the spring. They feel just five courts would “sufficiently cover their needs.”

“The town should be looking to ADD green spaces, not take them away in exchange for concrete spaces,” they wrote in the email, dated April 10. “The grassy field is used daily by school classes, clubs, after school sports, and special events. There is NO other grass space at the school… Sustainability and environmental impact doesn’t seem to be taken into account with this design.”

Madden indicated that other groups currently using that field could find other spaces, Mulroy said.

Town Meeting member Paul Siegenthaler, a self-described “tennis guy,” said he feels eight courts are “the bare minimum” needed. Resident Mark Gluesing felt similarly, adding the town lacks alternative courts.

“At the risk of not exiting the building with all my limbs intact, I’m an advocate for the eight courts as well,” Gluesing said.

Former girls tennis coach Diane Fidurko also voiced support for eight courts. When JV and varsity play separately, players lose out on “team cohesion” and are forced to travel elsewhere for practice, like Mills Field, Fidurko said.

John O’Leary on Rosemary Street expressed frustration over the inability to review the plans prior to the public presentation. The project plans indicate there’s about a 29-foot distance between O’Leary’s property and the courts. The minimum setback is 25 feet.

O’Leary said he feels there should also be stronger sight and sound buffers, as a chain link fence currently proposed would not be enough. People use the courts from “dawn to dusk… in an endless stream of play,” he said.

“We are not NIMBY,” O’Leary added, but he sees “very little accommodation.” The project feels rushed for Town Meeting, he said.

“It’s hard to hear that we need to have eight courts for tennis at the high school when I’ve survived 50 years in this town with four,” O’Leary said. “I think we can do it with five or six.”

Ellen Dudley lives on Webster Street, on the other side of the existing four courts. The distance from her backyard to the courts is under the existing 25-foot setback, which carries over in the new plans, but Dudley said she wished the town would consider increasing the distance.

Living close to the courts “has been an enormous inconvenience to my family,” she said. And while pickleball is seemingly off the table, she said she still worries the pickleballers will play there.

“Also, the fact that there are no pickleball lines doesn’t matter,” Dudley said, “because people play it anyway over tennis courts.”

Mulroy said the department will be updating its policies and knows that pickleball players may still try to use the courts.

“We’re aware of it, we don’t condone it, we ask people not to use it,” Mulroy said. “It still exists.”

For enforcement, Mulroy said the Park and Recreation Commission aims to review the outdoor court policies, which may include changing times for court use. Locking the gate will likely not prevent court access, as Mulroy said research shows people often just prop the gate open. Someone like a police officer would need to oversee usage, she said.

The Planning Board continued the hearing to May 14, which may be after the article funding the project has been presented to Town Meeting.

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