On Monday, Chilmark’s planning board held the first public hearing for its proposed bylaw amendment to prohibit pickleball court construction.
Many comments were given in support of and against the prohibition, with almost all speakers receptive to building a public court that could address noise level concerns.
The hearing follows months of public meetings on the topic, with attention largely given to noise pollution in residential areas.
Commenters against prohibition praised the sport’s health and social benefits, particularly for older residents. Those in favor cited experiences with disruptive noise, as well as related lawsuits and real estate impacts in other communities.
Before public comments, board member Peter Cook stated that the board had so far received over a dozen letters asking for consideration of a ban, and had only received one or two in favor of pickleball.
Board chair Richard Osnoss also shared the board’s familiarity with the matter so far. “We looked into it, and read a lot of history on the many lawsuits that have come up around the country regarding the issue of sound, and it was new to us.”
Osnoss also explained why prohibition was pursued, instead of a moratorium. “Anyone between now and the potential time at town meeting where a pickleball prohibition might be voted into effect—those applicants, if approved, would be building their pickleball court at their own risk. And if the town, through a two-thirds vote, decided to prohibit pickleball courts, those pickleball courts would have to be dismantled. That’s why we followed this route rather than a moratorium.”
John Diamond was the first to comment, and was against the prohibition. Diamond mentioned social opportunities for older residents, among other reasons. “[This] is not to deny that there shouldn’t be some regulations to make it reasonable, and accomodation[s] to others,” he said.
Diamond then compared a construction prohibition to the events of the film Footloose. “[The film’s protagonist] argued that rock and roll music and dancing, despite the noise, offers rejoice, exercise and celebration. And I will steal from that, and argue that pickleball does too.”
Diamond added that regulation may be complicated by the commercial availability of relatively cheap portable pickleball courts, and suggested that the town find space for community pickleball courts.
Osnoss responded to Diamond’s points about the sport’s health benefits. “Initially, the planning board was very hesitant about prohibiting pickleball courts just for that reason,” said Osnoss. “But in just doing our due diligence and research regarding communities around the country that are divided over this and have had several lawsuits as a result, we were trying to find a way to avoid it.”
Osnoss did acknowledge the importance of considering the town’s options for offering community pickleball spaces.
Jeff Kaye, who is not a Chilmark resident, spoke against pickleball given his personal experiences in West Tisbury. “I had a pickleball court 300 feet from my home in West Tisbury, in my association, and the noise was intolerable,” he said. “And most people in the association said it was intolerable in all phases of their life. Other people away from the noise said it was still very dramatically invasive. Pickleball is [in] a different category than tennis…different noise, different pitch. Pickleball can be heard 750 feet at least—Maybe 1,500 feet in my association—away from the court.”
“It’s not about whether it’s a good game or not. It’s a problem for the neighbors,” agreed Leslie Prosterman.
Scott Darling, who does not reside in Chilmark but considers it a home away from home, also spoke of a friend who had problems selling their house due to pickleball courts three properties away. “They had numerous potential buyers who were not interested in their house because of the noise.”
Though speakers were split on the amendment, almost every one either supported or was interested in the town building a public court in Chilmark, if located somewhere distant enough to not disturb residents.
“I wonder whether the properties at Peaked Hill that the town owns might serve [for pickleball] in the same way that the tennis courts at the [Chilmark] Community Center serve the general public,’ said Joan Malkin. “It seems that there is space…pretty far away from a residential structure.”
Kaitlyn Kurth, a tennis player and mother of two children, was also interested in public courts. “I don’t want any outdoor sport to be banned in the town of Chilmark, in [terms of] the court use. I think our town can come together…to build a place for [pickleball] that works for everyone. I won’t be putting one in our neighborhood, but my kids do love, love the sport, and they’re so young, and I hope that we can develop a center for it.”
Kurth also noted that her family has the alternative option of playing pickleball at Vineyard Family Tennis in Oak Bluffs at a cost of $60 an hour for four players.
Kurth, Darling and Prosterman also wondered if a soundproof barrier might be a solution. “I don’t know if there is such a thing as a soundproof bubble, not for residential areas, but for a public court,” said Prosterman.
Darling expressed interest in soundproof courts at the community center.
Some speakers also raised the possibility of equipment-based solutions.
Board member Cook first mentioned the potential effect of the pickleball industry’s efforts to mitigate noise levels. “Green zone,” or quiet pickleball paddles, have caught on for many players, and are manufactured by a range of companies.
Kaye disputed that pickleball players would generally accept soft paddles or balls. “They want that sound, they want the pop, and that’s how it’s going to continue…It’s a professional sport now.”
Osnoss was receptive to regulation reflecting the possibility of quieter equipment. “It makes me think of the fact that prohibiting pickleball courts outright would eliminate the possibility of pickleball courts should a new ball and a new racket come into play in the sport…perhaps along the way we address the sound issue—maybe pickleball courts would be allowed if they meet the same decibel level and pitch as a tennis court.”
Osnoss also noted that the board is aware of companies selling padded, noise-mitigating fences.
The planning board will consider and evaluate points from this hearing, and will hear further public comments at its next meeting. The board meets on second and fourth Mondays every month.