News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 9, 2023
Pickleball plan perused by public
Rejected 71-34

Collecting pickleball ballots from voters

Town Clerk Susan Macomber, standing, collects pickleball ballots from voters, at left, Cassie Vogell, Jacob Simmons and Ann Blodgett while others wait their turn.

Photo by Rosemary Wyman Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by David Avery

At a special town meeting held at Emerson Hall on March 6, more than 100 voters let their feelings be known on three warrant articles.

Chief among them was an article that would have allowed the select board to move forward in considering a plan to construct up to three pickleball courts at the back shore beach near the existing volleyball court.

Several people spoke passionately about the subject before the question was called. The written ballot vote rejected the article, 71-34.

Other articles were approved without discussion, including empowering the select board to enter into a lease agreement with the nonprofit Castine Wood Bank to use public land near the transfer station for its operation.

An article that granted the select board power to enter into a lease agreement with the new food vendor at the town dock was also approved without discussion.

Most of the meeting was taken up by discussion of the proposed plan to put pickle ball courts on public land near the beach. Private funds were to pay for design and construction.

The plan was put forth by Friends of Castine Pickleball, an organization represented by Therese Biggie at the meeting. At an earlier meeting of the select board, Biggie made the case that there are many people who play pickleball in Castine.

Most of the time they play indoors at the Maine Maritime Academy field house. There are no outdoor courts in town, she said then. The group’s proposal sought to remedy that and selected a site at the back shore beach because there were already recreational facilities there as well as parking and a bathroom during the summer months, she said.

Robin Mass served as moderator of the special town meeting, recognizing a dozen citizens who wanted to address the issue.

A motion was immediately made and approved to make the vote on the issue a written ballot.

Catherine Betts demonstrated what the noise of a pickleball court sounds like by banging a plastic bottle on the podium. The bouncing and paddled ball makes a sound much higher in pitch than does a tennis ball or a basketball, she said. Noise complaints are common in towns where pickleball courts have been built, she said.

Resident Bill Brennan, whose house overlooks the back shore beach area, spoke to the assembled. He noted that the back shore area is much more intensely used now than it was when he was a child. There are improvements that could be made, like more trash cans, more picnic tables and a fenced playground area. Pickleball, he said is a special interest and would go better on private land.

Alan Snapp spoke and suggested that “common sense” dictates that other locations would be preferable based on the wind alone.

Biggie spoke for the Friends of Castine Pickleball group and as a member of the Recreation Committee in town. “We are interested in all of your opinions,” she said, denying that the group was trying to force this article through without transparency, as was alleged in some social media postings.

The process includes the town and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, she said.

She added that, “Yes, we play indoors at MMA,” but it would be “nice to have an outdoor place.” The noise, she said, is similar to other noise that occurs at the recreation facility already, like screaming children.

Leah Tenney asked a question about the process and what a vote today meant. Select board member Gordon MacArthur said that a yes vote meant that the process would move forward with tests and permits from state agencies. If all tests were passed, then the Planning Board and the select board would have to approve.

Juliane Gardner gave an emotional speech in which she first apologized for some things she posted on social media. She went on to say that she has no problem with a pickleball court being almost anywhere, but not in a spot of natural beauty.

“I consider the back shore my friend,” she said. Gardner is a painter and photographer who appreciates light, she said. “The back shore never disappoints.”

“It’s our job to protect these places because they cannot protect themselves,” she added.

Biggie responded by saying that three pickleball courts do not have a large footprint, less than one tennis court. She also pointed out that the back shore is not a nature preserve. It is a town lot and a recreation area, with a man-made swimming pool and a volleyballl court.

Resident Joe Slocum disagreed. The back shore is not a recreational area “in my mind,” he said. The town should consider using land on The Shore Road for pickleball courts, he said.

He also suggested that the Adams School could have pickleball courts for use in summer.

Zach Sawyer, vice-chair of the Comprehensive Planning Committee, which is currently writing a comprehensive plan for the town, said the committee had not yet addressed recreation in Castine, but would do so soon. He suggested the committee would need to hear from residents on issues like this.

The question was called. Ballots were distributed, and a few minutes later the result announced.