City "still has concerns" as pickleball opening looms

City "still has concerns" as pickleball opening looms
A couple of pickleballers test out the newly installed courts March 9 at the Craneway Pavilion. Photo/ Linda Hemmila

City Attorney David Aleshire speaking at the city council meeting Tuesday, said the city still has concerns about a pickleball sports-themed bar that has been installed at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion, which plans to open its doors on Saturday amid calls for protest.

Aleshire confirms there have been modifications to a plan previously struck down last year proposing a private pickleball club at the Craneway. “There’s been modifications to the project, but we’re still not satisfied that all the issues that were raised previously have been addressed,” Aleshire said. “We will be doing a follow up letter to the State Lands Commission concerning the modified use.”

Aleshire said a complete public report will be presented at next week’s council meeting.

Plans for the space shared through former mayor Tom Butt’s E-Form and obtained from Lina Valasco show the details of the project, including the dimensions and a statement from Orton Entertainment, which has a long-term lease on the Craneway and Assemble Restaurant. 

A statement from the application reads:

“There is no change of ownership or control. There is no alteration to the exterior. There is no interior construction. All flooring and other FF&E is temporary, fully removable, and reversible. The project continues as a restaurant and event venue--There is no change in use. There is no use that is not consistent and included in all existing use permits and regulations, including zoning, State Lands, or BCDC. The only changes are theme and FFE.

The project encompasses 75,129 square feet and includes a restaurant, a bar, sports-themed activities, and a mixed-use area for grab-and-go food and drinks, souvenirs, as well as equipment sale and rental. In addition to pickleball, the space will also include room for other sports and games, such as billiards, cornhole, chess, and checkers.

The statement says Craneway Pickleball plans to be open to the public from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Saturday.

Source Lina Velasco via Tom Butt.

Questions remaining about the business are numerous and center around licensing, public access, as well as municipal code requirements--which, according to attorney Daniel Butt can be complicated.

“The question of how much room for interpretation of the zoning code by a City is one of the more litigated land use issues. The standard is whether the determination is an abuse of discretion - it would need to be objectively unreasonable to challenge. 

“In a case like this where the issue being interpreted is not well defined, the Zoning Administrator has fairly wide discretion and room for interpretation,” Butt said. “The significance of the Craneway is that it is owned by the City as trustee for the Public Trust - as landlord, they could just say “no” to the proposed change of use, and that would be the end of it.”

Butt said he wonders why the city hasn’t stepped in to take action.

“If we had strong leadership in the City, this would have been over last year, and the Craneway would still be available for events. The City’s role as landlord/trustee is our strongest card, but we are refusing to play it. I want to know why,” Butt said

Construction of the hotly contested sports-themed bar has been a source of debate over the last several months as residents watched the 100-year-old building transform from a cherished public space to a pickleball club with new flooring, courts, and a small bar.

The announcement of Craneway Pickleball’s grand opening by Darlene Vendegna on East Bay Pickle Ball’s group page garnered mixed reactions from the public.

“Hey, Pickle People! It’s official! Pickleball at the Craneway Pavilion is happening! I’m so excited to be one of the coaches for this great facility in Richmond. I hope you’ll come join us; the views are great, and so is the food,” Vendegna said.

Responses on that page were largely celebratory, with some saying they were excited about having access to courts close to home.

Over on the Facebook group “Everybody’s Richmond,” word of the opening spread like wildfire and with just about the same intensity.

“Gross. Self-serving elitists preying upon our community when there are plenty other places to play. Their “open house” is March 23rd & 24th. Hope they get met with lots of protesting outside,” wrote Rachel A. Grottke.

“WOW this is just a reminder that the city didn’t care what Richmond voices felt about this historical site,” Mary Anna Rendon said.

Cutter Gordon wrote, “Let’s grab our pitchforks and tiki torches, then march on over for a candlelight.”

Bhavin Khatri wrote, “As long as community events are allowed, I don’t see anything wrong with this. The venue gets used probably 10-15 times a year, it’s better that it gets utilized throughout the year. No one should oppose if community events are allowed.”

The fact that the grand opening is taking place during a Rosie the Riveter Historic Park “Riveter Days Event” added fuel to the fire, and it didn’t take long before the discussion turned to calls for protest, which members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance answered.

A post by Sue Wilson invited Richmonders to dress up as Rosie the Riveter and protest the “Private Pickleball Club.”

“Pickleball is illegally invading public-owned space in the City of Richmond, so we are going protest the opening days of a private pickleball club next weekend (Sat. 3/23 & Sun. 3/24). We gather at noon both days at The Craneway Pavilion. Dress as a Rosie if you want to, bring noisemakers, and let’s keep it family-friendly!” Wilson wrote.

Frequent Everybody’s Richmond commenter Felix Hunziker wrote, “The RPA may be late to the party, but at least they’re taking action! There are SOME things we can all get behind. Either that or that “Civil War” movie is going to be a lot more prescient than I imagined.”

Jamin Pursell said that while they are organizing the protest, this is not a Richmond Progressive Alliance event.

“This isn’t the RPA who is doing this. This protest is based off of a number of conversations, some of which happened on this forum,” Pursell said.

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