Aventura's Planned Pickleball Courts Prompt Protests, Legal Action | Miami New Times


Pickle Brawl: Aventura Bulldozes Green Space to Make Way for Pickleball Courts

Aventura residents' community garden has been torn to shreds to make room for pickleball courts.
The City of Aventura ripped out the Founders Park South community garden to make way for pickleball courts.
The City of Aventura ripped out the Founders Park South community garden to make way for pickleball courts. Photo by Ronit Araujo
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Founders Park South gave Aventura residents a serene spot to unwind, ride bikes, and pass time in the community garden. Locals describe it as an oasis where families could take their kids to play and friends strolled together away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

But changes are afoot.

The community garden has been ripped out to make way for a new racquet sports complex, and the popping and clacking of pickleball games may soon fill the park's air daily.

Construction on the project began last month using funds Aventura allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act, which gave the State of Florida billions of federal dollars to bankroll recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The new complex is scheduled to be completed by early 2024.

Aventura residents' backlash against the pickleball courts has been brewing for months and only intensified once demolition commenced. Opponents have scheduled a protest for July 11, one day before the buildout of the courts is scheduled to begin, per the city's recent announcement. 

Meanwhile, two local property associations, whose predecessors granted land to Aventura to use for the public park, have sent cease-and-desist letters arguing the construction violates a covenant requiring the city to keep the park in its original form.

Aventura resident Ariel Penzer says Founders Park South was a respite for her after she gave birth to her child in March 2020 and was cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"A lot of the moms felt like we were in the same boat. We all met up in the park and scootered around that quiet little oasis. We had picnics in the park," she tells New Times. "We have a chat with 200 Aventura moms that we made to meet up, hang out in the park, and enjoy our time together with our kids."

Penzer filed a request for an injunction on July 1 to halt construction of the pickleball courts. The filing echoes the local property associations' claims, alleging that the project violates the terms of their predecessors' land grant to the city. 

As pickleball has taken the country by storm, it has been at the center of bitter conflicts over limited space to make room for new courts — and over the game's distinctive loud, popping noises due to the use of a perforated plastic ball. Residents from coast to coast have filed lawsuits, organized protests, and flooded city meetings in bids to stave off pickleball players from popping into their backyards.

At a time when pickleball's popularity has skyrocketed, the City of Aventura has been planning for more than a year to build a new facility to keep up with the craze.

"The demand for pickleball obviously is no secret. Lots of the condos in Aventura have been converting some of their tennis courts to pickleball courts," Evan Ross, the city's communications director, tells New Times. "There are tennis courts on the main Founders Park, which is just across the street from Founders Park South. But the demand for those tennis courts, particularly at peak times, is much greater than the availability."

Ross says that the last commission initially considered relocating the community garden to another park, but after some pushback, the city found a way to accommodate both the courts and a new garden.

"The community garden that existed — there were 48 boxes inside of a locked gate where the 48 people who had boxes, as well as staff, had keys for the gate," Ross says. "Now the community garden will be along the water in the park, so it's actually a nicer setting. It will be 52 boxes, so it offers a few more people the opportunity to get a box in the community garden."

A resident petition calling for the City of Aventura to halt the project says, "sports facilities are undeniably important, but there should be at least one park in the city for those who seek a different experience, who want to be within nature."

The petition says the new courts will make the park "noisy, crowded, and chaotic" and "deprive residents of the only green natural sanctuary in the city."

Penzer tells New Times that the constant racket from the racquets will keep residents from enjoying the outdoors. She adds that as part of the project, the city plans to remove dozens of trees that provided shade and gave the park its natural character.

"The city is saying we'll be fine behind hurricane windows," she says, referring to the windows' noise-blocking capacity. "A lot of us moved to Florida specifically for an outdoor lifestyle and to raise our kids in parks like these. To say to residents just stay behind closed windows and doors and not utilize your balconies, pool, or barbecue areas is ridiculous."
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The City of Aventura hired a contractor at a bid price of $1.3 million to construct the new racquet sports complex at Founders Park South.
Photo by Ronit Araujo
The south section of Founders Park, the site of the planned pickleball courts, was granted to the city by developers under a 1998 arrangement that put a number of restrictions in place.

A declaration of covenants requires the city to get homeowner associations' approval before changing the park to include activities of "a more active nature than shown on the park plan or other similar changes or increases" in facilities.

That clause is the crux of cease-and-desist letters sent by the 100 Hidden Bay Homeowners Association and Aventura Marina Owners Association, who are threatening legal action and describing the prospective pickleball courts as a nuisance.

"On average, each court will produce approximately 12 popping sounds per minute when in use. During peak periods when all courts are in use, nearby residents can expect to experience approximately 72 popping sounds per minute," the Aventura Marina letter reads.

Ross claims the pickleball courts were not a rash decision but the product of a "thoughtful process" that includes the construction of a new community garden and butterfly gardens.

"The land in Aventura is very expensive, and there's not much of it," Ross tells New Times. "There isn't a perfect place to put everything...The commission made the decision that they believed was best for the entire community."
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Screenshot of video by Ariel Penzer

In a memorandum, the city did not dispute the existence of the land-use restrictions but argued that the associations had waived their rights to enforce the rules because they did not challenge other changes to the park, including a previously installed "splash pad" water feature.

Despite the legal challenges and what's shaping up to be a heated campaign to stop the project, construction has been plowing ahead. The city's contractor Bejar Construction was selected last April at a bid price of $1.3 million to complete six pickleball courts, three tennis courts, new garden boxes, fencing, and landscaping, among other features. Residents have since been watching from their balconies as bulldozers prepare the site for the new courts' installation.
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