Wilmette Park District reshapes approach to Community Playfield after West Park controversy

Park District makes residents near Playfield a priority in pickleball discussions



Wilmette’s West Park (pictured above) already contains plenty of natural grass, an athletic field, and paddleball and tennis courts

It was in late 2021 when the Wilmette Park District approved a project that would expand the six-court paddle-tennis facility at West Park by adding four paddle courts and eight pickleball courts.  

As West Park residents expressed concerns with the project, some felt that the Park District had not adequately addressed the concerns. 

That was when the group, Friends of West Park, was formed.  

The community is being served (but) the neighborhood is not being served.

— Ryrie Pellaton

Made up of residents, past and present, and users of the park, Friends of West Park believes that the Park District must be considerate and mindful of residents and see the park as a neighborhood park.   

Created in 1961, West Park is the only Wilmette Park District children’s playground west of the Edens Expressway. The project would cause the playground to be downsized and relocated with new equipment.  

West Park residents were also concerned that the project would exacerbate the disturbances that noise and light from the facility already cause.   

The Park District continued to push the project forward. 

“There were more people that would benefit from it than the people that were speaking up in opposition,” said Park District Executive Director Steve Wilson.  

West Park was selected because there is “synergy” between platform tennis and pickleball, and pickleball players could use facilities at the hut, such as washrooms, Wilson said.  

As part of the approval process for the project, park officials appeared before the Wilmette Zoning Board of Appeals on Apr. 6, 2022, a couple of weeks before the Village Board voted on the project.  

The ZBA voted unanimously, with one member absent, to give the project a negative recommendation. 

“The community is being served (but) the neighborhood is not being served,” commissioner Ryrie Pellaton said at the meeting. 

During the meeting, commissioner Bradley Falkof pointed out that the project would decrease natural grass and trees at West Park to below 20%, which no other park in Wilmette nears. 

In the past decade, there has been a substantial decrease in natural grass at West Park because of the paddle-tennis facility and the sanitary sewer project. The area where the sanitary sewer project took place was replaced with synthetic turf. 

Park Board President Mike Murdock said he found it “interesting” that West Park residents focused on the amount of natural grass, not open space at West Park.   

“A lot of the activities that you would do on natural grass you can do on turf as well, [such as] walking, breathing fresh air, and running with your dog,” said Murdock. 

Days after the project received a negative recommendation from the ZBA, the Park Board removed pickleball from the project. 

Wilson said that the discourse between the Park District and residents had become “negative.” 

At the meeting, the Park Board came to a consensus that, due to resident concerns, they would not consider the original plan in the future. 

Soon after, the Park District reevaluated where to put pickleball courts and decided to focus on Community Playfield. They also considered Centennial and Maple Park. 

Wilson said the Park District “more proactively” notified neighbors of those parks than they had with West Park. 

At first, the Park District wanted to convert some tennis courts into pickleball courts and add new tennis courts. However, nearby residents withheld support because the new courts would be closer to homes. That drove the Park District to create a second option to convert some tennis courts into pickleball courts. 

That second proposal received support from fourteen of the sixteen residents adjacent to the proposed project site in a letter sent to the Park District on Mar. 16. 

In the letter, they said they were “apprehensive” of the project, but after hearing from pickleball players, they now understand the importance of having dedicated pickleball courts. 

“We were also glad to hear the comments from the commissioners, recognizing the validity of our concerns about noise [and] the paving of greenspaces,” the letter said.

Before a final decision for Community Playfield is made, the Park District is “flushing out” final details, Wilson said. 

The approach used during the pickleball discussions at Community Playfield to contact nearby residents is similar to when the Park District replaces playgrounds.

“We had an overall better conversation with the community, and that’s really what we want to do more often,” said Wilson.