Chilmark’s planning board is seeking more information before possibly issuing a ban on pickleball court construction, ahead of its next meeting on Oct. 10.
In a meeting earlier this month, member Ann Wallace suggested a six-month court-building moratorium, referencing an early pickleball regulation case: an outdoor pickleball court construction moratorium in Centennial, Colo.
That temporary ban was to evaluate the sport’s potential for noise complaints, and possible noise mitigation technology.
Centennial’s ban was replaced a week ago with a prohibition of permanent outdoor courts being built within 250 feet of a home property line. The new ban also required a permit for construction within 250 to 600 feet of a home, as long as the sound of play did not top 47 decibels (roughly the sound of a refrigerator running) at the nearest property.
A July New York Times article stated that the sound of a game from 100 feet away can be as loud as 70 dBA. Ordinary conversation ranges from 60 to 70 decibels.
In the Chilmark board’s Monday meeting, the board expressed a desire for more information, and uncertainty about whether to issue an outright prohibition on pickleball rather than moratorium. The board eventually decided to continue considering the matter, and attempt a further step in their next meeting.
At Monday’s meeting, members of the board noted that most input on the sport they’d received had been negative, due to noise concerns. “We heard detailed feedback from townspeople with great concern [over] sound,” said chairperson Richard Osnoss.
The discussion at the meeting focused on a letter from town counsel Ron Rappaport, which stated that pickleball courts are currently allowed similarly to tennis courts — by special permit under zoning bylaws (specifically Sections 4.2 A 3 and 2-28).
Rappaport wrote to the board that for a moratorium on issuance of special permits, the simplest way might be having a public hearing on whether to amend zoning in order to make pickleball courts a prohibited use, rather than a specially permitted use. “A moratorium would require a zoning amendment,” said the letter.
The board would then have time before the annual town meeting to decide whether to proceed with the amendment.
A key point from the letter — and a concern of the board — regarded whether property owners building a court would be exposed to retroactive banning if and when a ban succeeded.
“After the publication of the first notice of a planning board hearing on this proposed zoning amendment, any property owner who applies for a special permit (or building permit) for a pickleball court would be subject to the amendment in the event it is subsequently approved at [a] town meeting and approved by the attorney general,” stated the letter.
Throughout the meeting, several board members made clear their wish for more information on noise risks. This included Osnoss, who shared that he has enjoyed playing the sport. “It’s a tough one. I mean, we’re not super-knowledgeable about the issue,” he said, adding that he would like more input from players.
Osnoss expressed interest in a bylaw banning construction, as that would enable a public hearing in which interested parties could weigh in.
Osnoss also expressed interest in exploring any sound mitigation services.
The desired length of moratorium was also raised at the meeting. Member Janet Weidner expressed interest in a moratorium, and wondered about the possibility of a one-year period.
Much of the meeting involved a lengthy discussion on whether Rappaport’s letter primarily recommended declaring a moratorium, simply recommended declaring a public hearing, or suggested that prohibition would involve a similar process.
After member Hugh Weisman proposed holding a public hearing in order to discuss a bylaw prohibiting construction, his idea failed due to following disagreement on whether members understood Rappaport’s letter, and whether the board still had too many questions about the topic to proceed.
After roughly an hour of total discussion on pickleball regulation, Osnoss suggested asking Rappaport for further clarification. “We should come up with specific questions regarding [Rappaport’s] suggestion for a bylaw change rather than a moratorium,” he said.
“Everyone do [their] homework on what questions should be asked,” stated Osnoss, adding that at their next meeting the board would attempt to take action.