Wilmette, News

In compromise, paddle tennis to end earlier but village has less oversight

When the Wilmette Park District presented its proposal to modify a special-use ordinance for West Park’s paddle tennis operations, zoning commissioners gave it a negative recommendation.

But it was a different story, from beginning to end, when the park district appeared in front of the Wilmette Village Board Tuesday, Sept. 12, presenting a modified and watered-down proposal to limit hours for paddle league play while also removing some permit provisions. Trustees unanimously adopted the proposal.

Originally, the park district was seeking to set uniform paddle tennis hours for both league play and regular play every day. The change would extend regular play and pull back league play, which occurs about half the year, to 10:30 p.m.

The revised proposal, which was shared with the Village Board earlier Tuesday, only sought to shorten the time for league play to 10:30 p.m. Nonleague play would continue to end at 10 p.m. every day.

The changes also eliminate the lookback provisions — a way for the Village to check in on its requests — for lighting, landscaping and parking. The noise lookback remains and includes a planned sound study.

The district’s original request to alter the hours and lookback provisions was presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Aug. 16. It ended up receiving a negative recommendation by a 3-2 vote, with two commissioners absent. Zoning commissioners stated they believed the request for uniform hours was not responsive to neighbors and that it was too soon to remove the lookback provisions.

The lookback and hours were set by the Wilmette Village Board in April 2022 following months of negative feedback from West Park neighbors. In early 2022, the park district planned to add eight pickleball courts and four new paddle tennis courts, plus an expanded paddle tennis hut.

But after the Zoning Board of Appeals was unanimous in its disapproval of that proposal, the park district — like what it did this week — presented a scaled-back version to the Village Board. The amended proposal in 2022 removed pickleball and only asked to add two new paddle tennis courts and expand the hut. 

That request was eventually approved after a five-hour meeting in April 2022.

But it was a much quieter discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, which went on for about an hour and a half.

Trustees spent much of their time asking clarifying questions to Steve Wilson, the park district’s executive director, and John Adler, the Village’s community development director.

Six residents also spoke up during public comment, with three West Park neighbors asking trustees to vote down the request and three paddle tennis players saying they did not want their playing hours to be limited.

Patrick O’Gara, a West Park neighbor who frequently attends Park Board meetings and has been vocal in his opposition to expanding paddle options at West Park, called the modified proposal “unacceptable,” and said the league play should end earlier. He alleged that games that go beyond 10 p.m. feature players shouting obscenities and drinking.

“This needs to be 10:00,” O’Gara said. “Enough is enough.”

Emily Buerger, a paddle tennis women’s night league player, encouraged the trustees to keep the 11 p.m. end time for league play. She said she has played in “grudge matches” that go beyond two hours and called it “really discouraging” when the lights go off in the middle of a game.

“Please consider not pushing back the time from 11 p.m., as it gives more people the opportunity to take use of an awesome resource in our community during winter,” Buerger said.

As trustees began their discussion, they turned to the lookback provisions the park distrct wanted removed. Although the district was not asking to remove the sound study, trustees spent considerable time discussing it. During their discussion, O’Gara began interrupting from the audience, gaining a response from Village President Senta Plunkett before he walked out of the room.

As trustees shared their thoughts, all who spoke had the same message: This was a compromise and not everybody was going to be happy with the final result.

Trustee Kathy Dodd asked people on both sides to work together.

“And now I just ask all of you to work within these limitations. Try to be respectful,” she said. “We are a community. … I just hope that people take that and think about that, both the neighbors as well as the paddle players.”

Plunkett added that she doesn’t think the board “could have been engaged more on this issue.”

“This is a compromise, and this is difficult, and this is the best way to strike a balance here,” she said. 

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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