By Steve Plunkett
Pickleball may be coming to the Little Club but — shhh! — play will have to be very, very quiet.
Town commissioners asked that an independent acoustic engineer examine how loud two proposed pickleball courts would be, tabling a potential agreement hashed out over multiple meetings of the club, neighbors and the Architecture Review and Planning Board.
Conditions imposed by the ARPB would have players using only foam balls with “sound-dampening characteristics” and paddles no louder than the patent-pending Sniper “Quiet” paddle.
Play would be limited from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
The club would also put acoustic fencing around the courts along with landscaping to improve the looks.
“The Little Club has made tremendous effort, I believe from my research, made every effort that they can to reduce the noise impact from the proposed two pickleball courts,” Mayor Scott Morgan said.
But Morgan was not ready to approve the conditions of use.
“Noise is one of those features that is variable and ill-defined and not easily quantifiable,” he said.
Nine residents, mostly from the Hillside House and St. Andrews Club directly east and north of the proposed courts, urged commissioners to tell the Little Club to find another place for pickleball.
“If you haven’t played pickleball yourself or gone to it, go online and just Google pickleball, lawsuits, noise — and you’ll fall over at what it is that people have found out about the playing of this game,” St. Andrews Club resident and Little Club member Marilyn Benoit said.
The town’s code already restricts where comparatively quieter tennis courts can go, Commissioner Paul Lyons said. “No tennis court … shall be located, designed, operated or maintained to interfere unduly with the enjoyment of property rights by owners of the properties adjoining the tennis courts,” he said.
Sophie Bent, who owns two Hillside House units, said the Little Club’s original plan positioned the courts 25 feet from her window.
“Now the new plan is about 50 feet from our window so it’s kind of an improvement but not much of an improvement,” Bent said. “It’s not as bad of a plan but it’s still a bad plan, in my view.”
St. Andrews resident Carol Smith said a consultant in Arizona who specializes in controlling pickleball noise recommends that courts be at least 500 feet from residences.
Ros Curtis, president of the Little Club, welcomed the additional study the mayor wanted and said the club wants to be a good neighbor.
“Hopefully that will yield some more factual conclusions that people will be comfortable with, and we can go from there,” Curtis said.
A relatively new sport, pickleball is played on a court about one-fourth the size of a tennis court and combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong.
The game “is definitely noisier than tennis due to the hard paddle and plastic ball,” notes Pickleball Portal, an online blog. “Tennis is relatively quiet, the sound of the ball coming off the racket strings is very muted compared to the clack, clack, clack of pickleball paddles hitting the ball.”
The fast-growing sport has generated lawsuits from neighbors in Newport Beach, California, and Aiken, South Carolina, the blog says. Arizona’s Sun City Grand Pickleball Courts even has a list of “Approved (Green Zone)” and “Banned (Red Zone)” paddles.
The Sniper paddle that received the ARPB’s blessing coats a polypropylene honeycomb core with polyurethane foam to dampen noise. Patriot Pickleball, its manufacturer, promises that “for players who live in areas where the ‘pickleball pop’ is an issue for neighbors, this paddle promises to be the quietest yet.”
In other business, town commissioners hired Baxter and Woodman, their consultant on replacing the water main on north A1A, to update a 2002 study on building an underground sewer system for Gulf Stream and estimate construction costs. The firm will be paid $32,265 for the update and return with a final report in March.