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Niagara-on-the-Lake ordered to shut down pickleball courts

Court battle began with a noise complaint from a neighbour; members of pickleball club 'in shock' after town and club fined $1,000 each
no pickleball at delta pebble hill park

Pickleball play has been banned from Niagara-on-the-Lake's six outdoor courts in Virgil.

A court in Welland ruled on Wednesday that the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the NOTL Pickleball Club violated the town’s noise bylaw by allowing pickleball games on six courts in Centennial Sports Park.

Lambert’s Walk resident Oana Scafesi complained about noise from the courts and took the town and the club to court when there was no resolution to her concerns.

“The town and the club permitted noise which disturbs the quiet, peace, rest and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the town,” Justice of the Peace Mary Shelley said in her provincial offences court ruling convicting both parties.

Shelley ordered the pickleball club and the town to each pay a fine of $1,000.

Noting that Scafesi was more concerned with relief from the sound of pickleball rather than financial penalties, Shelley also ordered the courts not be used for two years.

“The defendant shall not commit the same offence or any related or similar offence in this case by permitting pickleball play … outside on the courts of Centennial Sports Park in Virgil,” said Shelley. “The period of probation will be for two years.” 

That means the courts are effectively shut down for any resident to use, whether they are a member of the club or a private individual. 

Lawyer Ian Langden, who represented the pickleball club in the case, unsuccessfully asked Shelley to levy a lower fine for the club, stating the club only has $2,000 in its bank account.

“To lose 50 per cent of its revenue in a fine will devastate the club financially and it will find itself in a position that it will struggle to pay the fine and to overcome that financial penalty,” Langden said.

In an email to the Lake Report, John Hindle, president of the NOTL Pickleball Club, said club members were “in shock” at the outcome.

“We will now be looking into what subsequent actions need to be taken. Regretfully, any other comment would likely not be printable,” he said in an email to The Lake Report.

Hindle said more than losing the case, he is upset that the hundreds of people who use the courts will suffer because the ruling favoured Scafesi.

“On a strictly personal note, and not speaking on behalf of the club, my level of frustration and sadness is severely deep, that so many people’s lives, their physical and emotional well-being, their search for a healthy active lifestyle, will be so negatively impacted by this decision,” Hindle said. 

After a request from Langden, the judge gave the club a year to pay the fine. Terrence Hill, who was representing the town, said the town’s fine would be paid within 30 days.

Throughout her ruling, Shelley made it clear that she is enforcing the town’s own bylaw and that its wording was very much an important part of the verdict.

“The bylaw itself is subjective. It reads, ‘No person shall make, cause or permit sound or vibration at any time, which is likely to disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment or comfort of inhabitants of the town,’ ” Shelley said.

“It was open to the town to enact a noise bylaw that was objective and quantifiable, not perfect, but within reason. It’s for all of these reasons that I find (the club and town guilty of breaking the noise bylaw).”

Shelley referred to the installation of a windscreen and the town reducing the hours of play on the courts as “meagre” sound-mitigating actions.

At one point, Hill said there is a motion going before town council next week to update the noise bylaw to permit the sound of recreational activities at parks even if they breach the noise bylaw.

“Municipalities changing bylaws is nothing that concerns the court until, and if, it comes before the court,” Shelley said.

Shelley said she would consider changing the length of time of the probation if the case came back before her.

“But there’s going to have to be extensive submissions on that point,” she said.

Hill cautioned that reaching this verdict could mean the broadness of the bylaw, which prohibits any noise that disturbs a resident, could snowball into absurd cases.

For that reason, Shelley said she specifically referred in her decision to the courts at the sports park only.

In her ruling, Shelley declared the town and the club were partners in the case, although she also said “it’s clear from all the evidence that the two parties didn’t equally contribute financially.”

Evan Saunders is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Lake Report. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.