The Monday, Apr. 24 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) featured an unusually charged public hearing on the Lake Club’s plans to establish a dedicated court for pickleball. The Commission also voted on the Wilton Land Conservation Trust’s application for 183 Ridgefield Rd., a project that has been in the works since last summer, and a daycare facility expansion on Danbury Rd., but pickleball was the hot topic of the evening.
Neighbors — and Members — Express Widespread Concern about Dedicated Pickleball Courts at the Lake Club
The public hearing section of the meeting began with a straightforward presentation led by attorney Kathleen Royle, who explained that although the Lake Club has offered pickleball for three years on its existing courts, the club has applied to establish a dedicated court area for the sport onsite and change the surface material to hard-court paving. Representing the applicant, Martin Schiff of Lally Acoustical Engineering testified about the company’s findings.
“We did come to the site and study demonstrations of tennis and pickleball as they’re played at the club,” he said. “Using a 3D computer model, we studied how that sound would propagate to surrounding properties, including the effects of wind, topography, and vegetation. Everybody who has played understands that the pickleball racket doesn’t sound the same as the tennis racket, but in terms of the decibel level and the overall noise impact relative to the background sound at the site, the pickleball play should be similar to what people are already hearing from tennis games.”
At one point during the hearing, P&Z Chair Rick Tomasetti would clarify to individuals testifying that the Lake Club is seeking an alteration to its existing special permit, not a zoning variance. Located at 175 Thayer Pond Rd., the Lake Club sits within a residential neighborhood and operates with a special permit, which Wilton regulations allow for private membership recreation clubs.
Town Planner Michael Wrinn quipped, “This is like air traffic control” while managing the many members of the public who showed up to testify. In total, 10 Wilton residents spoke out in opposition to the project, with several identifying themselves as both neighbors and active members of the club.
Commissioner Chris Pagliaro would later remark, “I’m a little concerned that something happened in the proposal where someone at the club didn’t even gauge the relationship with the neighbors that they had access to, who were members.”
Those speaking in opposition voiced a series of concerns, including skepticism about the science behind the acoustical analysis presented.
Speaking on behalf of what he called ‘a group of residents that are very concerned about the application as it stands,’ Jeffrey Boehme said, “We submit that the Lake Club is overstepping its privileges as a zoned neighbor by requesting the P&Z board to accept an application which will certainly alter the peace and quiet that we currently enjoy. A one-day site visit from a New York City consultant containing multiple liability loopholes should not be considered evidence of current and future sound levels, particularly as their results vary widely when compared to many studies from reputable experts across the country.”
Ed Rowley presented a series of slides with a technical analysis on the auditory impact of pickleball as well as Wilton’s own regulations about recreational clubs. He noted that because Wilton allows such clubs in residential areas as long as a special permit is obtained, the decision in this application will set a precedent that could affect other neighborhoods in town. He described the sound of pickleball as a “triple whammy” that is louder, higher in pitch, and more impulsive than tennis.
Joe Kirincich introduced the phrase “noise creep,” testifying that in recent years, the rise of special events like weekly movie screenings and weddings on the site have gradually but noticeably increased the level of noise disturbance for nearby properties.
Laura Rowley agreed, calling it, “a fundamental shift in how club perceives its relationship with the neighborhood.”
Another neighbor, Marc Foodman, cited the sport’s extended season, noting that pickleball is played earlier in the spring and later into the fall than tennis, when there are fewer leaves on the trees to help mitigate noise.
When all members of the public had been heard, the Commission turned to next steps. In light of the community concern about noise, Tomasetti suggested requiring an independent acoustical review of the proposal. The motion passed unanimously, with Wrinn noting that the Lake Club, as the applicant, would be required to pay for the second opinion analysis.
The hearing was left open, with Royle noting that the Lake Club would like the opportunity to respond to neighbors’ concerns when the discussion resumes. Commissioner Ken Hoffman requested to see a history of noise complaints about the site, submitted to both the town and the club itself, and several commissioners expressed an intention to review the club’s original special permit for context.
Nature Center on Ridgefield Rd. Finally Wins Approval
After nearly a year of stumbles, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust (WLCT) won approval for its proposal to use a barn on its 183 Ridgefield Rd. property as an educational facility. The Commission voted unanimously to approve the application, which was resubmitted with additional traffic analysis, details about parking and usage, and a new driveway relocated to an area with better sightlines.
Last summer, after months of technical challenges and confusion about P&Z’s review process, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust (WLCT) withdrew its application to use a historic barn on the Trust’s 183 Ridgefield Rd. property as an educational center. At the time, the group had been encouraged to return to P&Z with a more robust application, which they did earlier this year. On April 4, the Architectural Review Board met and voted in favor of the new proposal, a decision echoed by P&Z in its review.
Two minor areas of comment were given. P&Z Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini expressed concern that the signage depicted in the proposal might read as a “for sale” sign. Attorney Royle, representing this applicant as well, said they would take that into consideration. On behalf of her client, she also agreed to a request from Pagliaro to commit to realigning the stones of the deteriorating granite wall, which the Commissioner called “an eyesore.”
Two ongoing projects received approval as well: Bone & Bark’s application for a change to the fencing at its new site at 15 Cannon Rd. and A Kids Place’s application for an expanded daycare facility at 436 Danbury Rd.
Wrinn also agreed to draft a resolution extending the town’s outdoor dining regulations for another year, with Tomasetti noting that the Wilton Center Master Plan will more permanently codify these rules within the village and the Danbury Rd. corridor. This resolution will be reviewed at the next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday, May 8. The proposals for an 8-30g multifamily complex at 12 Godfrey Pl. and Wilton’s first-ever hotel at the iPark site will also be held that evening, along with a pre-application hearing regarding parking at medical offices at 88 Danbury Rd. The applicant for this final project was meant to present at the Apr. 24 meeting but was a no-show.
On Monday, May 1, the Commission will meet for a site walk at ASML regarding the company’s application for additional development at its site at 77 Danbury Rd.
Disclosure: The editor of GMW is a member of the Lake Cub, but did not contribute to this report.