Pickleball’s growing popularity has led to a split in Ship Bottom, where new recreation fees have sparked demand for improvements to existing courts and a reminder that officials promised John J. Guild Recreation Park would not become a nuisance for neighbours.
Borough officials heard from both sides at their monthly meeting on May 24 before unanimously passing Ordinance 2022-05, which requires all pickleball and tennis players to purchase a badge. access on an annual, weekly or daily basis to use the facilities.
The annual badge is valid for the calendar year in which it is issued. Fees for the recreational badge are $80 per year for non-resident users, $50 per year for borough residents, $20 for weekly players, and $5 per day. Children 12 and under would play for free.
An annual badge could not be transferred to another person, except in cases where tenants are staying at a property where the badge is registered, according to the measure.
In her opening comments at the public hearing on the ordinance, resident Mary Montone told council she didn’t mind paying fees, but asked what improvements would be made to existing courts now that fees were charged to play it.
“What is the problem with the courts? said Mayor William Huelsenbeck.
“There are only two,” replied Montone. “You go to Beach Haven, and they set up new courts. Long Beach Township has seven (pickleball courts).
On the afternoon of May 24, Montone was at the recreation park, where there were more than a dozen people waiting for time on the courts. She said that as the gateway to Long Beach Island, the pickleball courts are used not only by borough residents, but also by property owners and visitors to Beach Haven West and other areas of Stafford Township, as well as through Surf City.
Huelsenbeck noted that the township is four or five times larger than Ship Bottom, which was one of the first communities in the area to build a pickleball court, and while he was not opposed to the possible addition of more land, one of the playgrounds in the borough is in need of work.
“I get the playground. I have grandchildren,” said Montone, who referred the conversation to improvements to existing pickleball courts. “And a story of wind? In the commune there is a windbreak. It can’t be that expensive. I learned it was $27,000 to fix the courts. I was shocked by this, but I hope you do your homework when hiring people. Improving the courts; that would be good enough. I guess now that you charge to play, improvements can be made.
Mike Heuberger, who lives near the park, however, cautioned the council against any improvements that would make the courts wider.
“I don’t know if it’s the right time. I am here to speak out against the expansion of more pickleball courts,” the Barnegat Avenue resident said. “The game is very noisy and starts before 7 a.m. (in the morning) on sunny days. I’m not advocating getting rid of what’s already there, but if you put more in, you’re going to clash with the owners there.
Heuberger said that about five years ago residents living near the park were told there would be no lights or basketball courts, but he recently read that those things could be considered.
“When you did this originally, you said we would always consider the residents there,” he said. “All I’m saying is it’s good now. (It) doesn’t seem like the shuffleboard is used, but it does mostly in the afternoon – usually by families.
In April, borough officials said they were using this summer to gauge the popularity of activities at the park before making decisions.
The park, located between Fifth and Sixth Streets at Barnegat Avenue, also includes bocce ball, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and a baseball diamond.
“We don’t say no and we don’t say yes. It’s a possibility,” Huelsenbeck said. “We have to do the playground. It’s quite expensive. We are improving things all the time.
The amount of money expected to be generated from recreation fees will likely cover the costs of maintaining the park and paying workers, he added.
“It’s like the boat launch,” Huelsenbeck said. “We are breaking even.”
—Gina G. Scala