Birmingham weighs in on country club issues
By Grace Lovins
After numerous complaints from Birmingham residents regarding noise and a proposal for pickleball courts at Birmingham Country Club, the Birmingham City Commission addressed the issues at their meeting on Monday, August 29, noting they do not have the authority to enforce anything as the club is in Bloomfield Township.
At the commission’s previous meeting on Monday, August 15, several residents from Saxon Drive and Norfolk Street in Birmingham, bordering the country club, expressed their concerns to the commission over incidents of speeding, issues with parking and persistent noise coming from members of the club. Because the club is located within Bloomfield Township and is regulated by the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees, the commission is not able to offer much in the way of changing or managing the club operations or development.
Mayor Therese Longe mentioned on August 15 that the commission would be able to draft a letter to the board of trustees that recognizes the complaints made by Birmingham residents and offered suggestions as to how to possibly mitigate or address some of the issues brought up. Many of the complaints from residents focused on the issue of excessive noise coming from the tennis and paddle ball courts and the concern over the club’s proposal to construct pickleball courts on the corner of the property close to Saxon Street, but on property owned by the club.
A representative with the country club, Dan O’Hara, offered his input on the decision to construct the pickleball courts close to the neighboring homes, given that the courts will be built in the same location the paddle ball courts had previously been moved out of following resident complaints about noise. According to O’Hara, the paddle ball courts were moved because of lighting. Trees were planted around the courts so the lighting would not impede on the neighbors, but the pickleball courts will not have any lighting at all.
Referencing the trouble with noise coming from the courts, commissioner Clinton Baller asked O’Hara about mechanisms or policies for reducing sound such as fence blinders or alternative balls. Pickleball has been known to create loud noise from its racquets and balls, a complaint made around the country. O’Hara stated the country club is planning to use green racquets, which are considered the softest of racquets in terms of noise, and the club has plans to conduct a sound study in the upcoming week.
O’Hara also noted that the neighbors have asked the club to conduct a parking study, which they plan to complete, along with a sound study for the courts, but he maintains that parking is not really an issue aside from a few times a year when the club hosts tennis finals and swim meets.
City manager Tom Markus questioned if the country club has its rules and appropriate conduct displayed near the courts or anywhere at the club. When O’Hara confirmed that rules were not posted, Markus suggested that a sign or plaque be posted on the fences of the pickleball, paddle ball and tennis courts. He additionally suggested that the country club establish regular meetings with the neighbors to improve communication and the relationships between them.
“Recognizing that they aren’t directing you but they are interfacing with you, you’re developing a relationship with them. You might find it works both ways. You might have some challenges with some neighbors in terms of encroachment and other things that impact the golf course but you can get those things flushed out if you have a regular committee to do that,” Markus suggested to O’Hara.
After addressing the noise concern brought up by residents, the commission addressed the issue of parking that was brought to their attention. Residents claim that club members regularly park in the street parking on Saxon Street, which is legal public parking that provides a shorter walk to the different courts than if they were to park in the club’s parking lot. It was also stated that while parking is a persistent issue, club members have also been seen by residents speeding through the residential areas while going to or coming from the club.
Commissioner Katie Schafer encouraged O’Hara and country club leadership to communicate to the members of the club what they are and are not allowed to do and acknowledge when members are not following the rules. She cites her own experience and policy that is upheld for employees of her business.
“The message comes from the top,” Shafer stated. “My staff knows that they are not to park on the street in front of other people’s homes. It is public parking, they’re allowed to park there, but they know that if I catch them parked in front of somebody’s home that they’re going to hear from me. … If the messaging comes from up here that ‘we want to be good neighbors where our business is located,’ I think you can be effective that way as well.”
The commission decided that a letter would be sent to the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees that addresses the complaints they have received from Birmingham residents neighboring the country club. Mayor Longe noted the letter will include the recommendations from the commission that were discussed during the meeting.