Upper Arlington residents hope to pick pickleball fight on November ballot

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When Upper Arlington voters head to the polls this fall, they will face decisions that go beyond tax levies or presidential candidates. They will also cast their votes on an issue surrounding the fastest-growing sport in America — pickleball.

A group of city residents is seeking a November ballot measure that would let voters decide whether to let the city sacrifice more tennis courts at Northam Park for pickleball courts. The petition came in response to Upper Arlington City Council’s decision to convert three of 12 clay tennis courts into pickleball courts.

The project, managed by Marker Construction, includes the conversion of three clay tennis courts into six new pickleball courts and a new multi-purpose facility near the courts that will include gender-neutral restrooms and storage rooms for both the adjacent baseball fields and remaining tennis courts. 

“With the recent trends in the skyrocketing growth of the pickleball sport and the rather steady state of tennis, it made sense to convert those three (over budget) tennis courts into pickleball courts,” Upper Arlington City Manager Steve Schoeny said, explaining the rationale behind the conversion.

The city council decision last fall was met with fanfare and anger from residents, especially tennis players who regularly use the Northam clay courts.

Construction on the pickleball courts began in early spring, forcing residents who wanted to prevent them from being built altogether to rethink their approach.

Upper Arlington resident and avid tennis fan Walt Theiman led opposition to the courts last year and is now leading petition efforts to get a measure on the November ballot to prevent the construction of more pickleball courts.

To be considered for the November ballot, the petition must gather 2,040 signatures by the end of June. If that number is achieved, the petition is submitted to the Franklin County Board of Elections, which then verifies the signatures to ensure they are valid, meaning they must be from registered voters within Upper Arlington.

“We want to prevent the loss of more of our beloved courts in the future, should the city decide to transform additional clay courts for pickleball use,” Theiman said.

Theiman and others are concerned that there won’t be enough space for the summer tennis league, which relies on the availability of all 12 courts to accommodate its 29 teams.

There are also worries about parking and accessibility. Limited parking at Northam is already a concern, and it could worsen during peak times with the addition of pickleball courts, the tennis court supporters argue.

If the signatures are verified and the petition meets all other criteria, the county board of elections could approve the petition to be placed on the ballot.

Theiman said he is optimistic and is dedicated to ensuring that this pickle remains constructive and unifying.

“There’s room for both (pickleball and tennis courts) of us to exist here,” Theiman said. “There’s absolutely no reason for this conflict to become divisive in any way.”