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Chapel Hill pickleball players protest at Town Council meeting, prompt response from AOC

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The pickleball courts at Ephesus Park are pictured on Jan. 21, 2022.

On Oct. 3, demonstrators raising pickleball paddles and signs that read “We are many” and “We are diverse” attended the Chapel Hill Town Council work session to encourage Town funding of more pickleball courts.

The work session’s agenda items included investigating possible new Parks and Recreation projects, such as a splash pad project and a disability-inclusive playground.

The Oct. 3 Town Council meeting did not include public comment, as it was a work session, so the pickleball players did not speak to the council. 

“I think that they are simply community members who are very passionate about something, it’s our constitutional right to show up in spaces and let local policymakers know what our positions are, and they did that,” Chapel Hill council member Paris Miller-Foushee said.

Melody Kramer, a writer for Triangle BlogBlog, wrote a piece on the pickleball demonstrators and examined the current state of the Town's Parks and Recreation needs that could be met through the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“There's a laundry list of items that have been basically patiently waiting their turn, and I think it's awesome that the pickleballers have said that they can contribute $400,000 in matching funds,” Kramer said. “I looked that up, that's about 12 pickleball courts without land and part of me wants to say that's great, you know, grab some land, build your own pickleball courts, go to town.”

Kramer said the demographics of the pickleball demonstrators were representative of those who have the time and resources to attend these council meetings. 

“People who might want to advocate for an accessible playground and a splash pad are either in bed or putting their kids to bed, so they're not able to physically be present at council meetings,” she said.

In addition to a possible splash pad and disability-inclusive playground, Kramer said that some of the Town's ARPA funding could be used to renovate the Chapel Hill Teen Center and the Chapel Hill Skate Park.

On Oct. 6, Kramer tweeted a photo of demonstrators at the work session along with her blog post, which garnered a large amount of Twitter popularity, including a reply from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y. 14th).

“I'm not anti-pickleball, I really have no stake in pickleball versus tennis," Kramer said. "Really, our people are out and about and being active and meeting other people – that's really, really good for their health and their well-being."

Chapel Hill currently has pickleball courts at four locations: Hargraves Community Center, Chapel Hill Community Center, Ephesus Park and Southern Community Park. 

Pickleball players can additionally utilize the tennis courts at Oakwood Park and Phillips Middle School.

Of the ARPA funds allocated to Chapel Hill, the Parks and Recreation department received $2.5 million for new projects and the upkeep of older facilities.

“In January, we began determining what the community was interested in funding with this money through gathering information and making sure that we’re being consistent with other studies done by Orange County and other groups,” said Sarah Poulton, the special projects manager for the Town of Chapel Hill.

The remaining $8.2 million of Town ARPA money will go to funding affordable housing and homelessness initiatives, community nonprofits and other projects.

“It’s a big amount of money, it’s once-in-a-lifetime funding, so it’s important that the Town is taking these steps to determine who receives it,” Poulton said.

@wslivingston_

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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Walker Livingston

Walker Livingston is the 2024 enterprise managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer city & state editor and assistant city & state editor. Walker is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and American studies, with a minor in data science. 

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