Does pIckleball have a noise problem?
Earlier this month, AB Today reported on the closing of park-based pickleball courts due to noise complaints among neighbors. Now comes word that a country club's plans to construct courts is being challenged for the same reasons.
As reported by Fox affiliate KTVI in St. Louis, the sound generated by the crack of the plastic ball on the pickleball paddle is a growing concern for residents of Kirkwood’s Osage Hills neighborhood.
“We’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, it’s no louder than a bird chirping. It’s like the sound of children playing.’ But that’s just not true,” Kirkwood resident Julie Missey said.
Missey’s home backs up to the Greenbriar Hills Country Club, and for months she and her neighbors have worked to prevent the country club from building outdoor pickleball courts on land behind their homes, KTVI's Mike Colombo reported.
“We have all kind of neighbors who will be affected by this noise,” she said. “The club just doesn’t seem to care.”
A representative of Greenbriar Hills Country Club told KTVI the club commissioned an acoustic study of the site and that the "on-site study concluded that the sound levels of the proposed project satisfy and fell well below all applicable county codes.”
Related: Park's Pickleball Courts to Close After Noise Complaints
The Kirkwood City Council approved Greenbriar Hills’ pickleball plans, but added one important amendment.
“The approval that was granted is only valid if the post construction sound study shows they’re actually meeting the county’s noise ordinance,” Jonathan Raiche, planning and development services coordinator for the City of Kirkwood, said.
Once the courts are built, an independent secondary sound study will be conducted. Until then, Greenbriar Hills Country Club says pickleball will not be played on the court until it satisfies the county’s noise ordinance.
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If the pickleball courts are in violation of that ordinance, Raiche said, “We would not issue their final occupancy or final inspection approval for the courts for pickleball purposes."
Even if the courts satisfy the ordinance, the noise could remain a problem.
“The code is not appropriate for this type of sound,” said acoustic engineer Lance Willis, hired by the neighbors who oppose the project to review Greenbriar’s plans. He told KTVI that St. Louis County uses a metric that doesn’t accurately measure the quick crack produced by a pickleball paddle.
“This type of sound, sound that has this highly impulsive characteristic, has a much greater annoyance than other sounds of the same level,” Willis said.
This dynamic could impact some individuals more than others. Missey is particularly concerned about how her 16-year-old-son, who has Down syndrome and autism, will react to the noise. “We have no idea how being exposed to the repetitive, highly impulsive noise of the crack of a pickleball paddle will affect him,” she told KTVI. “It really concerns us.”
A St. Louis County spokesperson offered the following statement: “If we receive a noise complaint from Kirkwood or anyplace else in the county, we will respond by measuring the noise as described in the code. We decline to comment on any of the particulars of the Kirkwood dispute.”
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The noise concerns don't appear to spreading as fast as the sport's popularity, but they are gaining increased attention. The case AB Today reported on Jan. 20 involved court closure in Lake Oswego, Ore. KTVI reported that Park City, Utah, amended its land management code last April to address the unique noise produced by pickleball. The amendment posted on the city’s website requires that outdoor pickleball courts feature a minimum setback of no less than 150 feet from residential property lines.
Missey said Greenbriar’s pickleball courts would be located less than 60 feet from her home. “If you put courts too close to houses, you’re almost guaranteed to get noise complaints,” she said. “All they care about is that they want their pickleball courts in that exact spot."