When the Wilmette Park District presented its proposal to change a special-use ordinance for West Park’s paddle tennis operations, zoning commissioners gave it a negative suggestion.
However it was a special story, from starting to finish, 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 in search of to set uniform paddle tennis hours for each league play and regular play daily. The change would extend regular play and pull back league play, which occurs about half the yr, 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 proceed to finish at 10 p.m. daily.
The changes also eliminate the lookback provisions — a way for the Village to examine in on its requests — for lighting, landscaping and parking. The noise lookback stays and features a planned sound study.
The district’s original request to change the hours and lookback provisions was presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Aug. 16. It ended up receiving a negative suggestion by a 3-2 vote, with two commissioners absent. Zoning commissioners stated they believed the request for uniform hours was not attentive 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 so as to add eight pickleball courts and 4 recent 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 so as to add two recent paddle tennis courts and expand the hut.
That request was eventually approved after a five-hour meeting in April 2022.
However 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 inquiries 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 didn’t want their playing hours to be limited.
Patrick O’Gara, a West Park neighbor who regularly 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 transcend 10 p.m. feature players shouting obscenities and drinking.
“This must be 10:00,” O’Gara said. “Enough is enough.”
Emily Buerger, a paddle tennis women’s night league player, encouraged the trustees to maintain the 11 p.m. end time for league play. She said she has played in “grudge matches” that transcend two hours and called it “really discouraging” when the lights go off in the midst of a game.
“Please consider not pushing back the time from 11 p.m., because it gives more people the chance 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 identical message: This was a compromise and never everybody was going to be joyful with the end result.
Trustee Kathy Dodd asked people on each side to work together.
“And now I just ask all of you to work inside these limitations. Attempt to be respectful,” she said. “We’re a community. … I just hope that individuals take that and take into consideration that, each the neighbors in addition to the paddle players.”
Plunkett added that she doesn’t think the board “might have been engaged more on this issue.”
“It is a compromise, and that is difficult, and that is one of the best method to strike a balance here,” she said.
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