Centennial may impose temporary ban on new outdoor pickelball courts

“Research shows that continuous impulsive sound such as pickleball paddle impact with a pickleball make it difficult to relax, concentrate or sleep soundly without disturbance as each impact heard draws attention and creates distraction.”

And with that passage from an ordinance before Centennial City Council this month, this southern suburb will consider a six-month ban on the construction of any outdoor pickleball courts within 500 feet of homes.

Centennial’s potential moratorium comes as pickleball — a mashup of tennis and ping-pong that is easy to learn and highly social — explodes in popularity. In February, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported that 8.9 million people played pickleball last year — nearly doubling 2021’s 4.8 million — making it the fastest-growing sport in the United States for the third year running.

But with that growth has come an increasing number of coast-to-coast stories of sonic assault and descents into the doldrums of dissonance, as the sound of hard paddles repeatedly smacking perforated plastic balls send some over the edge.

This month, the Boston Globe reported on neighbors in Wellesley, Mass. upset about the “loud and repetitive” racket of pickleball play in their neighborhood. Across the country, in the Portland, Oregon suburb of West Linn, a resident told the city council last month that the noise from nearby pickleball matches impacted his neighbor “worse than (the neighbor’s) cancer.”

Just a few miles away, in Lake Oswego, city officials in January converted pickleball courts into tennis courts after receiving numerous noise complaints.

A Centennial spokeswoman told The Denver Post this week that the city has no regulations in place specific to pickleball but is looking to avoid the fights over noise impacts that have become widespread. Centennial, said Allison Wittern, has received one proposal from a developer to build courts near homes.

“Therefore the city wants to proactively study the noise impacts specific to commercial outdoor pickleball courts within 500 feet of neighborhoods, which is why a six-month moratorium is being considered,” she said.

City leaders this week forwarded the measure on first reading and will take a final vote on March 21. If the moratorium passes, it will last until Sept. 30.

“It’s insane,” Ryan Bailey, deputy director of Arapahoe Park and Recreation District, said of the appetite for pickleball. “And it keeps growing.”

Neither recreation district that serves Centennial — Arapahoe or South Suburban Parks and Recreation — currently has outdoor pickleball courts in the city. But Bailey said there are four indoor courts at The Trails Recreation Center in Centennial — and they get good use.

There are two outdoor pickleball courts in Centennial’s Piney Creek neighborhood, which are run by the homeowners association. A request for comment from the HOA’s president was not returned.

Centennial is currently reviewing plans for Camp Pickle, a proposed 70,000-square-foot facility with 14 indoor and outdoor pickleball courts and restaurant and bar seating throughout. Wittern said the project wouldn’t fall under the city’s moratorium as it is not slated to be near residential areas.

Centennial’s ordinance says the sound produced by paddle impact with a pickleball is an “impulsive sound,” which some acoustical engineers say is “near the most sensitive frequency range of human hearing” and is “known to create greater annoyance than other forms of sound.”

Braxton Boren, assistant professor of audio technology at American University who has analyzed audio from an outdoor pickleball match, said the noise from a pickleball paddle will vary depending on its style and build.

“But in general, they will be higher pitched than for tennis racquets, as higher frequencies are generated by shorter wavelengths of sound, so smaller racquets will usually make higher pitched sounds,” he said. “This means that an equivalent level of sound pressure from a pickleball racquet will — all else being equal — be perceived a little louder than a tennis racquet in most cases.”

Boren said there haven’t been many studies on the health effects of long-term exposure to pickleball, but he surmised that “it’s very unlikely that these are sound levels that could cause hearing loss or direct harm to people nearby.”

“However, there are a number of non-auditory factors, such as annoyance, stress, or sleep disturbance, which could be quite likely for residents who are very close to an outdoor court,” he said. “Random, impulsive type sounds are generally more annoying than continuous background sounds.”

In north Arvada lies Colorado’s largest outdoor pickleball facility — a busy 24-court complex at the Simms Street Recreation Center. Katie Groke, director of community services for the Apex Park and Recreation District, said there is a “huge demand” for pickleball facilities in the city. The Simms Street courts were built in phases, starting in 2013, she said.

A half dozen homes in the Sunset Mesa neighborhood back right up to the courts. A knock on several doors yielded somewhat surprising responses about the cacophony in their midst.

“We don’t mind it at all,” said Angela Kemper, who enjoys watching — and occasionally heckling — pickleball tournaments from her deck, cocktail in hand. “It’s like the ocean. It’s just kind of background noise.”

Three doors down, Mike Arp is also unbothered by the activity that goes from sun-up to sundown any day the weather permits. His two young children also shrugged off the noise, quickly returning to a fight with plastic swords in the front hallway.

Arp bought his home in Sunset Mesa in 2020.

“It’s never come up that it’s been a nuisance,” Arp said of his neighbors. “It just kind of sneaks in.”

A spokesman for Arvada said the city has received no complaints about noise from the Simms Street courts.

Sam Brown, founder of the Westminster-based American Pickleball Association, said he’s seen the strong response to Pickleball Food Pub, an indoor pickleball facility with bar and party room that he opened in a Westminster strip mall last year.

He’s already attracted more than 12,000 members in the 13 months it’s been open.

“We have people who have never been athletic in their lives — overweight, tall, short — they can all play,” said Brown, who turns 83 later this month.

Noise notwithstanding, Brown said there’s no doubt about the continued trajectory of a game that began in 1965 in Washington State and got its biggest boost during the pandemic.

“It’s so social and so much fun. And there’s more trash talk among the old farts than in an NBA game,” he said. “It’s like a religion and a disease — you get addicted to it.”

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