The city of Bexley's proposal to build pickleball courts at Jeffrey Park, 165 N. Parkview Ave., has sparked a debate about the need to balance the demand for recreation activities with preservation of greenspace.

The Bexley Recreation and Parks Department is proposing to build four pickleball courts in Jeffrey Park, next to the existing tennis courts, at an estimated cost of $150,000 that would be funded through private donations, said Michael Price, recreation director.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, according to the USA Pickleball Association's website, usapa.org. Pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court using a slightly modified tennis net.

The tentative location for the courts at Jeffrey Park is in an area that measures about 60-by-120 feet and includes grass and at least one tree, Price said.

"There is a tree to the west of the tennis courts that would be removed, however, that tree is scheduled to be removed for health reasons, whether the courts are built or not," he said. "If approved, at this point I do not expect any healthy trees to be removed, however, we have not finalized the design.

"There is a small chance that we may have to move a healthy tree on the east side of the tennis courts, but at this point, I think that would be unlikely," he said.

Creation of the courts requires the approval of the city's Recreation Board. During the discussion of the proposal at the board's Nov. 14 meeting, board member Ann Brennan said she has concerns that the courts would encroach on greenspace.

Brennan said the courts, in addition to the relocation of a maintenance garage that is included in the planned expansion of Jeffrey Mansion, would have a cumulative effect of eroding the natural environment of Jeffrey Park.

"I'd be happy to explore alternatives that do not impact so significantly on the remaining park greenspace," Brennan said of the plan for the pickleball courts.

Price said Bexley Recreation and Parks Department administrators have been discussing adding pickleball courts for the past few years. The department submitted a grant application to the Bexley Community Foundation in 2016 to fund the construction of two pickleball courts near the tennis courts at Jeffrey Mansion, but the application was denied, Price said.

Price said he and Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler met with a group of local pickleball players earlier this year who said they have a $100,000 commitment from a donor to finance the courts. The remaining $50,000 could be obtained by submitting a new grant request to the community foundation, Price said.

"There seems to be a lot of energy behind the idea of having pickleball courts at Jeffrey Park," Price said. "There seems to be a large chunk of funding already in place for that type of a project."

Based on the growing popularity of the sport in the community, the Recreation and Parks Department drew lines to create four pickleball courts on the existing tennis courts at Jeffrey Park so pickleball could be played when tennis isn't scheduled, Price said.

He said the department also partnered with the Bexley City School District and drew lines that created two pickleball courts at the Maryland Elementary School playground.

"It's definitely been an improvement, but there's some downside ... of a shared space between pickleball and tennis," Price said. "We have a very active tennis program through the rec department that takes up a lot of the time on the tennis courts. We have a number of active users in the public that use the tennis courts.

"Oftentimes, the pickleball players felt there was no consistency in their ability to go on the courts because of that," he said.

Price said other locations, such as Schneider Park in southwest Bexley where the Recreation and Parks Department is developing new athletic fields, are not ideal for pickleball courts because of the terrain.

Price said the department has honored Brennan's request to mark off the proposed site for the courts in Jeffrey Park to give Recreation Board members an opportunity to assess how the greenspace would be impacted.

He said he anticipates the board will vote on the pickleball proposal at its January meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 2 at Bexley City Hall, 2242 E. Main St.

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