Friday, December 2, 2022

Pickleball court on Carolina Beach must procure permit or face destruction

Carolina Beach officials caught wind of a pickleball court being constructed in a residential neighborhood, forcing an official rezoning process. (Port City Daily/File)

CAROLINA BEACH — Jeremy Hardison, the planning director of Carolina Beach, received a phone call in early May. On the line was a concerned beach town resident, who levied accusations that a pickleball court was under construction in the neighborhood and wondered if such a project was allowed in their neck of the woods. 

It was the property of Kelly and Terry Wyckoff. The couple bought the vacant lot earlier this year, though they live across the street in the water-facing Carolina Beach neighborhood. 

The Wyckoffs never planned to build a house on the property. According to town documents, they called Hardison in March to ask about the logistics of building a pickleball court. The plan required an application for a conditional zoning district, Hardison told them, because of the neighborhood’s current residential-only zoning tag. 

After hearing from the concerned neighbor in May, who told Hardison there was concrete in the ground for a pickleball foundation, the planning director issued a “notice of violation” to the Wyckoffs for not first clearing the required rezoning hurdles. 

Now, the pickleball court application is officially in the pipeline. A planning board hearing is scheduled on the matter Sept. 9 and town council will decide next month the fate of the court. 

Kelly said she was told — when the town discovered pickleball construction had begun without the required permit — to either dig it up or apply for the conditional zoning district. 

“It honestly did not occur to us that a cement slab was considered a facility or a structure,” she said. 

The undeveloped property was used first as a community garden, Kelly told Port City Daily, which was well-received by the neighbors. The plan then evolved to include a pickleball court.

Pickleball is a rapidly growing paddle sport, played on a shrunken tennis court with whiffle-style balls. The Wyckoffs intend to build one court, accessible only by local residents of the neighborhood. It would be locked behind a keypad and enclosed by noise-reducing fencing. 

Part of the conditional zoning district process is holding a community meeting for nearby property owners within 500 feet of a proposed project. 

“Obviously, with any project, you do have a few people that for whatever reason want to vehemently come out against it.”

Dozens of emails flowed into the Wyckoffs’ accounts in advance of the meeting, most supportive of the unique land use. If the vision comes to full form, the garden and court would be on a grassy lot in between two houses, with views of the waterway visible from pickleball matches. According to the application, two real estate agents claimed the plan would increase property values in the neighborhood.

A few respondents were displeased and claimed it presented violations of the homeowners association covenants and town zoning code. 

“If the pickleball court is allowed, it is obvious that the Town council members have no respect for the Pleasure Cay covenants, specifically the single family one- or two-story housing restrictions,” wrote one neighbor in response to the plan. “If Mr. Wyckoff is allowed to continue, we feel that there is a high probability that the HOA will be facing an expensive lawsuit by homeowners in Pleasure Cay and/or adjacent communities who will also be subjected to the noise from the pickleball court.” 

Kelly said a number of candidates for Carolina Beach Town Council, like Joe Benson and Mike Hoffer, as well as current councilor Jay Healy, attended a community meeting on the project. This conditional zoning district application is the beach town’s first since an updated state law went into effect earlier this summer that reshuffled some types of land use applications. 

READ MORE: North Carolina zoning law tidy-up has cities and counties working from same playbook

Planning staff are able to leverage these types of applications to impose specific conditions on applicants. In this case, staff are asking the Wyckoffs to build at least three parking spaces, refrain from installing outdoor lighting and install a landscape buffer. 

The applicants have suggested conditions of their own, too: keeping non-neighbors out, providing bike racks and golf cart parking, posting signage and using a keypad device for the entrance. 

“We’re not going to poke the fire at this point,” Kelly said. “We just need to get to the end.” 

The planning board hearing will take place Thursday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. — located at council chambers on Lake Park Boulevard, Carolina Beach.

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