The Wellington Tennis Center is getting a new home outside the Village Walk community on Lyons Road.
The controversial decision divided members of the Wellington Village Council 3-2, with Vice Mayor Howard Coates and Councilwoman Anne Gerwig opposed.
The Wellington Tennis Center has been located adjacent to the Wellington Community Center since the village purchased the property in the late 1990s. But concerns about parking, along with a planned expansion for the community center, prompted a council decision in January to look for a new tennis home.
Council members and village staff considered several sites for a new tennis center, including the former Wellington Boys & Girls Club property on South Shore Blvd., the K-Park property on State Road 7, village-owned land behind the Hampton Inn near the Mall at Wellington Green and the Village Walk site on Lyons Road.
Councilman Matt Willhite said that his goal was to move tennis “while having the least impact on the most residents.”
Councilman John Greene asked how long it would take for construction of a new tennis center. “I’m looking for a way to have the least impact on all of the programs,” Greene said.
Operations Director Jim Barnes said that it could take about 18 months once a site is chosen. Demolition of the community center would come after that.
“The existing tennis facility would not be disrupted until a new facility was in place,” he said. “That directly impacts how soon you can start the new community center. You can’t do any new construction on the existing site unless you decide not to use any of the areas where the tennis center and courts are.”
Mayor Bob Margolis asked Wellington Tennis Center Director Tommy Cheatham to weigh in on the new site.
“I think the tennis community would like to see a facility where we have more tennis courts than we do right now,” Cheatham said. “We’d like to see a minimum of 20. We could definitely fill all those courts up.”
If the facility had to move, Cheatham said his tennis players would prefer to see a new site behind the Hampton Inn. “It’s the closest place to where we are now,” he explained.
Cheatham said that more courts would allow for more league and tournament play. “We’re overflowing with leagues,” he said. “We have to turn people away because we just don’t have enough courts.”
Margolis noted that a petition signed by Wellington Tennis Center players asked for the tennis center to stay put, but Margolis said he didn’t feel that was realistic.
“There isn’t enough space for all the teams and everyone not on teams,” Margolis said. “I hope that the people who signed the petition will understand that.”
Willhite noted that many of the sites up for consideration are already being used for other purposes. For example, the former Boys & Girls Club site has baseball fields that are in use, while the Hampton Inn site has multipurpose fields often used by families or people playing informal sports games.
“I support relocating the tennis facility,” Willhite said. “I think in order to not disrupt any programs, and for the benefit of everyone, the Village Walk site is the best location.”
The comment elicited jeers from the audience.
Coates said he thought the Village Walk site was the least favorable of all the options.
“To put the tennis center in the Village Walk area would make it the longest drive for our residents who live in the western part of the community,” he said, garnering applause from residents. “I have heard from residents of Village Walk and Olympia that tennis is not a use they’d like to see over there.”
Coates said he’d rather see the tennis center stay put. “I would vote to keep tennis here,” he said. “I originally voted to move it because my perception was that there was a parking problem in this area. I’ve now become somewhat persuaded that there is not the parking problem I had originally thought.”
Coates also had concerns about the $5 million price tag to move the facility.
“That’s a huge amount of money to justify to residents,” he said. “We’re going to take perfectly good courts and tear them up, then we’re going to move them.”
The money could go instead to fix drainage problems, Coates said. “That is very much needed to address recent issues with flooding,” he said. “Last year, the village was underwater at least twice.”
Gerwig asked whether any other municipality had more than 16 clay courts, and Barnes said Wellington was the only one.
“I’m very proud of our tennis program,” Gerwig said. “It’s fantastic. We have 16 clay courts, and they get a lot of use.”
She noted that upgrading the existing courts would cost about half what moving the facility would.
“This is our city center,” Gerwig said. “I think tennis should stay here. I realize it’s tight, but I’ve never been here and found that there were no [parking] spaces.”
During public comment, residents and tennis players asked council members to either keep the existing site or move it only to the site behind the Hampton Inn. No one spoke in favor of moving to Village Walk.
Resident and tennis player Judith Rosner said that the Hampton Inn site would be the least inconvenient choice.
“It’s the closest in location to the existing tennis facility,” she said. “We won’t inconvenience nearby residences with increased traffic and brightly-lit nighttime play.”
Rosner also noted that to get to the Village Walk site, tennis players would have to drive through several school zones.
“Traffic will be horrendous,” she said.
Longtime tennis player Toni Siskind, who lives in Binks Forest, said that the current tennis facility is ideally located with beautiful views.
“It’s good for the mind and the soul,” she said. “We are used to the open air and the freeness of the environment. It is a wonderful site, and tennis should remain where it is.”
Though some residents refuted the idea that parking was an issue, Margolis noted that popular events like the Food Truck Invasion and senior luncheons had people parking illegally on swales and other locations.
“We have to move the tennis center to start the community center,” Margolis said. “I believe the Village Walk site is the best place. Once it’s built, it will be the gemstone for the Village of Wellington and its tennis players.”
Greene made a motion to move the site to Village Walk, which carried 3-2 with Coates and Gerwig opposed.