NHS Tennis Courts Hearing Closed, Vote to Come in July

June 5, 2024
• The town shared updated plans for the Needham High School tennis courts at the Planning Board’s Tuesday meeting.

After proposed funding for the project was pulled from the Town Meeting warrant this spring, the tennis court redesign and renovation at NHS stretched into a third public hearing session.

Jonathan Charwick from architecture partner Activitas presented the plans, which work to accommodate some of the abutters’ requests, but questions remained regarding enforcement, the number of courts and the loss of the field next to the four current courts. Four new courts would be built on the field.

Rosemary Street residents previously shared concerns regarding the close proximity of the courts to their backyards, so now, the two courts furthest west have been moved six feet closer to the parking lot and thus away from their property line.

Following a call for visual and sound barriers, the town suggested planting 33 evergreens, ranging from five to eight feet, along the 25-foot setback. Existing vegetation would be left untouched, Charwick said, but tree limbs could be trimmed should the town also raise the existing 12-foot perimeter fence to 14 feet behind Webster Street.

“Obviously, when we’ve done site visits, we’ve seen balls on the neighbors’ property,” Charwick said, “so 14 [feet] will help, but I can’t guarantee that it’s going to catch everything.”

All eight courts would face north and south — past iterations of the plans angled the new courts slightly off from their north-south orientation. The courts would be built with post-tension concrete, which is estimated to last 50 years, Charwick said. Park and Recreation Director Stacey Mulroy previously stated they have a 25-year lifespan. They also plan to implement a new infiltration system in the parking lot for water drainage.

Almost absent from the conversation was pickleball, which emerged as an early concern during the hearing process due to the noise and perceived overuse of the courts. The hours of operation have also been tentatively set for 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday — which follows the town’s noise ordinance bylaws — with the condition that pickleball would not be played, Town Counsel Chris Heep said.

Planning Board member Adam Block said the new plans show “a significant improvement” but acknowledged the displacement of a number of athletic programs that take place on the existing field. Mulroy said NHS Athletic Director Ryan Madden said he could find different spaces for those programs, which include rugby and cross-country practice.

Park and Rec activities on that green space could also be easily moved, Mulroy said.

A grassy field sides beside the four tennis courts at NHS. A proposal suggests installing four new courts on the field. (Cameron Morsberger)

“In general, we do have archery up on that field, but we can relocate that to another location within the complex,” Mulroy said. “And as I’ve said in a prior [meeting], this project will actually significantly enhance our tennis academy summer programs, as well as our tennis lessons.”

Rosemary Street resident Julie Dananberg voiced upset over possibly losing the field and cast doubt over the community’s ability to find new places for the teams that use the field. She said it feels like the town is “prioritizing tennis over the other groups” by doing so.

The town also maintained the desire for eight courts as opposed to six, for which some neighbors advocated. Fellow Rosemary Street resident John O’Leary previously spoke in favor of a six-court plan, which he reiterated Tuesday, adding that eight courts takes vital green space away.

“I see the kids out there today. They’re out there doing cornhole during gym, the bean toss and the volleyball and touch football a couple of days ago, just a bunch of kids playing,” O’Leary said. “I do think this solution is overbalanced towards tennis and overbalanced, frankly, towards concrete as opposed to grass and green space.”

Should the courts be put in, Mulroy promised “very frequent pass-bys” to ensure everyone is following the rules. Park Ranger Wu Ping Liao or other department staffers could enforce the regulations, but it may come down to residents calling in complaints, she said.

“It’s not a perfect system because we can’t staff the courts in every field in town,” Mulroy said, “so we do rely on people letting us know.”

Mulroy committed to adding signage around the courts with the hours of operation.

Ellen Dudley, whose backyard on Webster Street sits 11 feet from the existing courts, said signage is important, but tennis players should also not be allowed to involve the neighbors.

“Don’t ask us to throw your balls back to you,” Dudley said. “Don’t interrupt us when we’re working on our back deck or having a family dinner… I don’t mean to be unfriendly, but we’re trying to do what anyone does in their own backyard, and we don’t need an audience.”

The board closed the hearing and will discuss the project at its next meeting June 18. The board expects to vote on a decision at the following meeting July 11.

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