Fort Lauderdale — The distinctive high-pitched blast of pickleball will soon take over part of Snyder Park — or will it?
Grand plan paves way for private pickleball complex at Snyder Park in Fort Lauderdale trigger a turf warneighbors joined forces with community activists to block a deal that would lease 8 acres of the park to a private entity for at least 50 years.
Critics worry about the noise of bouncing pickle balls and extra traffic. Game time will be extended from 6am to midnight.
Kitty McGowan said she and her boyfriend lived about a block from where the courthouse was scheduled to be.
“With pickleball, we can’t sit in the backyard,” she said. “It’s going to be too loud. Every stroke of that ball, it’s like ping pong on steroids.”
Like other critics, neighbor Ted Insella worries whether the current fascination with pickleball will fade.
“By 2025, people may not even be playing pickleball,” he said. “When it’s done, it’ll be obsolete. Then what are you going to do with the stuff?”
Proponents of the plan believe the ballpark will attract pickleball players from all over South Florida, filling the park with more people than ever before.
In 1966, the 91-acre Snyder Park was sold to the city for a modest $350,000. The seller, a company owned by the late Byron Snyder, a no-frills man, wanted to keep the land as a park with no commercial uses.
Kristen Snyder, the great-great-niece of the previous owner of the land, said her uncle would have known if the My Park Initiative had offered to transform the southwest corner of the park into at least 39 pickle balls. “Rolling in the grave” court with playing facilities and clubhouse with locker rooms and restaurant.
The company has the commission’s blessing — granted on Nov. 1, just seven days before three new commissioners were elected — to design, build and operate the pickleball complex in the park, located at 3299 SW Fourth Ave. in the southeastern part of the city , less than 1 mile from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The company will run the courthouse for 50 years, with an option for two five-year extensions. Under the deal, which critics have dubbed yet another land grant, Fort Lauderdale will collect $100,000 a year or 1% of gross revenue collected in the previous year, whichever is greater.
The city council approved the plan in a 3-1 vote on Nov. 1, just days before voters went to the polls Elect three new members.
The group intends to cease trading have allies in newly elected Vice Mayor Warren Sturman, who asked city officials to put on the brakes until he gets more public input.
“My goal is to keep the community going,” Sturman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
But his request — made more than a month after the deal was approved by the committee — drew derision from the podium.
“I feel like I’m in the twilight zone,” Commissioner Steve Glassman said at a town hall meeting on Dec. 20. “I feel like everyone has amnesia. We spent hours discussing this. We voted to move this project forward.”
Kevin Cochrane, a community activist who has led the fight to preserve Snyder Park, isn’t worried.
“Can this be reversed? I believe yes, it can,” Cochran told the Sun-Sentinel.
cochran, who Lost District 4 game Sturman, by 49 votes, hoped that the covenant restrictions could be smoking guns to stop the project.
The restrictive covenant says the land cannot be used for commercial purposes, “but shall be used and maintained as a park forever.”
But the applicant’s lawyers argued that the restrictive covenant was no longer valid.
Even though it was valid, the company that sold the land was dissolved in 1986 and ceased to exist, paving the way for the deal to move forward, then-City Attorney Alain Boileau told the committee.
Cochrane is now pursuing another avenue to block the deal, through a petition campaign to permanently protect the park as a public green space and prohibit any public-private partnerships from developing any part of the park for commercial purposes.
Cochrane and his Save Snyder Park group have turned to a provision in the city charter that allows 1,000 registered voters to sign a petition proposing a new commission ballot regulation.
Cochrane and more than 60 volunteers across the city are now gathering more than 1,000 petition signatures to stop a portion of Snyder Park from being covered by a pickleball field.
“I had over 62 volunteers collecting signatures,” Cochran said. “It’s blown up. I think it’s a problem for people who live near parks. But it’s the whole city. I have volunteers from 26 communities in all areas.”
He aims to turn over signatures to the petition to election monitors by mid-January, with the goal of adding it to the committee’s agenda on March 22.
Some say it’s a long shot and the deal is done.
On Wednesday, Mayor Dean Trantalis signed a comprehensive agreement with the My Park Initiative under the direction of the committee.
Still, people signed the petition.
Kristen Snyder, great-great-niece of the man who transferred the land to the city, also happily added her signature.
“His goal was never to commercialize the land,” said Snyder, a regular at the park.
It was Snyder who found the deed of sale after spending three hours poring through hundreds of pages of microfilm at the county government center.
City Hall didn’t know about the deed restrictions until she found out.
“I like the idea of bringing people into the park,” Snyder said. “I don’t think 39 pickleball courts with restaurants is the answer, especially when private companies come in and benefit from being on public land.”
Neighbor Tom Turberville said he still believed in the petition.
“When Kristen Snyder found the property, we felt like we had a smoking gun,” he said. “We all think you’re gone, you can’t use it commercially.”
The mayor argued the petition was based on a false premise.
He noted that the pickleball complex will be built on land currently used as a transfer station and composting site.
“We’re activating a dormant area, which is a composting facility, and we’re finally opening it up for public use,” Trantalis said. “The council has weighed in on this. Unfortunately, people seem to think we’re paving pastoral when in reality it’s a composting site that we can recycle for public use and enjoyment.”
If the petition fails, Inserra believes the fight will end in court.
“We’re ready to take a stand,” Insella said. “We don’t need all this concrete and all this development. With covenant restrictions, the law is on our side. This could end up being a court battle.”
Contact Susannah Bryan email@example.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan