By Gary Lloyd
UPDATE 12 p.m. June 22: The project has been pulled from this location. Another location will be sought.
UPDATE 9 a.m. June 22: I’m told this project is now on a pause pending Trussville City Council discussion.
TRUSSVILLE – The Trussville City Council on Tuesday, June 14 approved Milam and Company constructing 12 pickleball courts on the greenspace between the Trussville Senior Activity Center and Cherokee Drive.
A week later, Trussville found itself in a bit of a pickle.
On Monday, June 20, many Trussville residents took notice of fencing that had gone up the previous week in that greenspace. Questions flooded Facebook groups and Trussville City Council email addresses.
At the Thursday, June 9 council workshop, Milam and Company Vice President Barrett Milam presented renderings of the pickleball courts, which includes eight under a covered structure and four outside. Restrooms and additional parking could potentially be added. Funding for the project, which Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat estimated to take six months, came from a grant that Alabama Sen. Shay Shelnutt acquired. Shelnutt did not respond to a voicemail message Tuesday, June 21.
Choat said he had looked for “over a year” for a site for the pickleball facility. He said he looked in the South Chalkville Road area of the city, Norris Farms where Trussville Fire Station No. 4 will eventually be constructed, the Trussville Sports Complex and the Pinnacle shopping center.
“I just kept coming back here,” Choat said. “I don’t know where else to put it, but I know these six or eight courts that we’ve got over here [on the Mall] are just not going to meet the demands that we have.”
Choat said the Mall area came up about a year ago for additional courts to be constructed.
“There wasn’t any way I was going to put it over there,” he said. “That was a no-brainer. Believe me, I’ve looked and looked, and I kept coming back here because of where it is. And I know that’s the heartburn is the greenspace.”
Perry Cook, the liaison to the Parks and Recreation Board, was not present for the June 9 council workshop presentation. Choat said the four council members present – Ben Short, Jaime Melton Anderson, Alan Taylor and Lisa Bright – agreed to put the matter on the consent agenda for the June 14 meeting. Choat said he saw no one signed up for public comment to speak on the matter June 14.
“The timing of this time of the year, to do what we want to do, it’s not rainy or cold,” he said. “We can go ahead and get this done before it gets cold out here. This was just one of those opportunities. I don’t think anyone denies it’s a good project. It’s just the where it is that’s caused the heartburn for everybody.”
Choat said no environmental study on effects to the nearby Cahaba River were conducted. City officials looked at Milam and Company’s design plan. Choat said some grading near the senior center could happen and that some areas may be elevated three to four feet. The covered structure, Choat said, should angle in a direction from the senior center toward Cherokee Drive.
“I don’t think the Cahaba, especially 25 yards from the sidewalk, whatever rain falls it won’t be affected by this,” Choat said. “I’ve seen standing water over here just in a heavy rain before. But we did look at all that before we decided on it.”
On Monday, June 20, flyers imploring Trussville residents to contact Choat, Shelnutt and the five council members were taped to the fence. By Tuesday, June 21, it included posters. Among them, “Don’t take away our green space please!” and “Please don’t pave our paradise.” It seemed clear that several were drawn by children.
“I have lived in Trussville for 20 years,” said Ashley Warren. “We have waited excitedly for decades for our promised greenspace. As most residents know, that project took decades to finally come to fruition after many, many hiccups and stumbling blocks. Our mayor ran his campaign promising to finish the greenway. It’s my favorite thing about this city. We pride ourselves on our small-town charm, and now that is going to change.”
Choat said that despite the recent backlash against the location, he’s “OK with” the location.
“If I had a better place, I’d put it there,” Choat said. “I don’t know of a better place. I really think it’s just filling in a need for what I see is more of a demand than we have a supply right now.”
Choat said he was “committed” to this project and hoped the council would approve it.
“I was committed to it and hoping the council would approve it,” he said. “Was there a reason to pause [construction]? That’s kind of why I didn’t let them [Milam and Company] start yesterday [June 20] turning dirt. I wanted to have a visual to make sure I still supported it, which I do.”
As for residents and visitors who use the greenspace now for other reasons – picnics, throwing a Frisbee, throwing a ball, walking a dog – Choat said, “I would say obviously there’s not going to be as much space for them, but I think when it’s all said and done, once this facility is up and the fences are down, they’re probably going to be surprised that there’s more space than they ever thought there would be, considering what they’ve seen and heard. At the end of the day when it’s finished, there’s still going to be room to throw a Frisbee or throw a ball or whatever. Not as much room, obviously, but there’s still greenspace available over here. The walking trail will not be affected by this, which is great. I just think once it’s done, I guess my comment would be I think even I’m even more surprised at how much greenspace is left.”
As for parking, Choat said “we can get by” with what’s there now, particularly due to the hours of the senior activity center. It is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is closed on the weekend.
“But we’ve got to find a way to make sure we have bathrooms over here and maybe some more parking,” he said. “Cahaba [Elementary School] is up the street, but it’s a little too far for some people to walk.”
As for pickleball tournaments in Trussville, Choat said it’s not just about revenue.
“All we want to do is kind of showcase Trussville, and I think we’ll have probably one of the premier pickleball facilities in the state of Alabama,” he said.
“I’ve always tried to look at it from, ‘Do I think it’s good for Trussville?’ At this point, I was expecting some pushback, it’s kind of gained momentum, obviously, but the way I address it is I always go by my conviction, and I would never do anything I thought was detrimental. It’s not about just building and building. It’s about kind of what we provide as part of our quality of life. There’s a lot of people who have moved here that have expectations of the city to provide more opportunities. Even [when I was] on the council, I try to put a lot of thought into it ahead of time, and think about it, that’s why it took me a year to settle in and feel OK about this site over here.”
Warren said “no one is opposed to Trussville having pickleball courts, but we do not want it in our greenspace we fought so hard to have.”
“There are also concerns on how this was handled and why it was pushed through so quickly,” she said. “The taxpayers were not notified it was going to be voted on because it was not on the public agenda. We have had no opportunity to voice concerns, ask for modifications, consider many of the other locations that could be used. This state-acquired grant means the money may not come from the city’s pockets, but the land sure comes at the expense of Trussville taxpayers and residents. We should have a voice in how our land is being used.”
The public agenda was emailed out to a longstanding email list prior to the council workshop June 9. At that time, the pickleball courts construction approval was not listed on the agenda. It was added after Milam’s presentation to the council at workshop, but that agenda was apparently not emailed out to the longstanding email list prior to the June 14 council meeting, but it was listed on the consent agenda at the council meeting. Printed agendas are readily available prior to meetings at Trussville City Hall. This could have contributed to residents feeling out of the loop on the project. [Note: I have been unable to confirm if anyone else on the email list received the updated agenda prior to the June 14 council meeting, or if it was just me, and I wanted that to be clear. I have asked the question. If anyone did receive it and I have missed it, this article will be updated to reflect that for accuracy.]
“If it didn’t, I don’t know about it either,” Choat said. “I look at the final agenda. Quite honestly, we tried to work closer to the deadline than we should sometimes. We’re cutting everything off on Tuesdays now so we can make sure on Wednesday everything is right. If it wasn’t on there, I didn’t notice it either, because really all I saw, that I remember seeing, was when it was on the consent agenda. I could have missed it. I think it just got out after the fact. People weren’t aware of it and that’s where a lot of the heartburn came from. Whether it was on that first list that went out or not, I don’t know. But I do know what I saw, it was on there. I think people just kind of missed it. That’s all I can tell you, is they missed it. We don’t try to have public meetings on stuff like this. We do if it’s a shopping center or a neighborhood is involved or something like that. We’ve done that in the past. A public hearing, rather. This one, to me, it was almost a no-brainer as far as the project and is it good for Trussville.”
Trussville resident Stephanie Benzaia said that the traffic the pickleball courts will bring should be a concern to anyone living in the area. Cahaba Elementary and the senior center will not be sufficient parking for tournaments, she said.
“What will the city do to protect neighborhoods from the traffic?” Benzaia asked. “How will they protect our children that ride bikes and walk in these areas? What will be the impact on the Cahaba River? This is being built in a flood plain. Please, Mayor Choat, reconsider pausing this until we as a city have a chance to figure out what is best for the city.”
Choat said he understands that a lot of folks won’t be happy with the location of the pickleball courts.
“But there’s going to be a lot of pickleball players and guests that come to Trussville that are going to think we have a great facility here, and that’s the bottom line, really,” he said.