Pickleball on Pause in Centennial | Westword

Centennial Pumps Brakes on New Pickleball Courts Over Sound Fears

Pickleball has drawn many avid fans in recent years, but one Colorado city wants to study the sport's noise before more courts can be constructed.
Centennial will soon be home to the restaurant concept Camp Pickle. But the city is wary of further pickleball development.
Centennial will soon be home to the restaurant concept Camp Pickle. But the city is wary of further pickleball development. Camp Pickle
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Pickleball-mania is running wild in Colorado and across the country, prompting a very important question: How close do people really want to live to this loud-ass, incredibly popular sport?

In many municipalities, officials admit that they aren't ready to embrace the pickle passion, and that was evident on March 21 at an hours-long Centennial City Council meeting at which a six-month moratorium was handed down for all pickleball court construction within 500 feet of any residence or area zoned as residential.

Their reasoning? They're not prepared to deal with complaints over pickleball.

"This is something that suddenly came up for us," said Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Holt at the Centennial  meeting. "Not only here, but also the metro area and, quite possibly, Colorado, and even more dramatically, across the country. We are tackling this issue right now. All eyes are on Centennial as far as what we do."

Centennial, like many places, is attempting to figure out why some people absolutely loathe pickleball, while others are obsessed with it. The main issues for the sport have been related to its loud plastic balls and composite paddles — as well as its enthusiastic and vocal players.

One woman from California got so mad about late-night pickleball players in her neighborhood that she sued the city of Newport Beach in 2021 for allowing the sport to cause her "severe mental suffering, frustration and anxiety." Feuds like this have been cropping up around the country ever since the sixty-year-old sport was given new life during the pandemic.

Centennial has only two permanent pickleball courts right now; Neil Marciniak, director of community and economic development for the city, told the crowd at Tuesday's meeting that he isn't aware of any noise complaints. Denver has heard them, though, causing the Department of Parks & Recreation to move pickleball courts away from residences as part of its plan to redevelop the sports courts at Congress Park.

Centennial hopes it won’t have to make revisions like that in the future, especially if it takes the time to study pickleball before more courts come to fruition.

"The city is better poised to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to noise," Jill Hassman, senior assistant city attorney, said on March 21. "Though we only have two permanent courts now, the demand is massive to add so many more permanent courts."

South Suburban Parks and Recreation, the park district for Centennial, completed a master plan update in 2022 to bring more pickleball courts to the area. However, now that city council members ushered in the moratorium, no courts can be proposed or constructed there until it is lifted.

Marciniak said city staff decided to pump the brakes on building more courts because of evidence showing that pickleball and residential areas just don't get along, almost as though the two were the Geminis and Scorpios of the sports-developing world.

"The recommended ordinance in front of council for consideration tonight really presents you with two questions," Marciniak told councilmembers before they voted. "Whether to allow unregulated pickleball to be constructed within the city and accept the potential for consistent or reoccurring noise complaints and other impacts that may come along with it, versus taking a brief pause to study the issues and possibly regulate to limit those noise complaints and other potential impacts that may come along with pickleball courts."

Now that the moratorium has passed, city officials will work with stakeholders to study pickleball and develop a set of regulations related to the sport. Currently, Centennial city codes don’t address noise or construction specifications for pickleball courts.
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Gates Tennis Center in Denver is a popular pickleball destination. Centennial's pickleball lovers may need to travel there to play for the next six months.
Gates Tennis Center
Citizens came out on Tuesday to alternately bash and show support for the pickleball moratorium — with over twenty people serving up verbal volleys.

"In this day and age, we'd be remiss not to help individuals explore fun and creative ways of getting exercise outdoors,” said resident Stephani Samaras. "However, providing multiple outdoor pickleball courts in a social venue will do nothing but harm the community long-term. ... This will not be only a weekend annoyance for the surrounding communities, but also unsettling for those working from home during the weekdays."

The residents who support the pickleball proposal tended to follow Samaras's line of thinking: The noise could create rifts between those who play and people who live nearby, and it's worth taking the time to find strategies to mitigate those problems.

“I really didn’t hear any downside to the moratorium,” said Davida Wright Galvin. “People can still find other ways to play pickleball, it still exists, so there’s no harm caused by the moratorium.”

Wright-Galvin asked if people would want courts by their houses. “Saturday morning is what I’m thinking about, because I like to sleep with my windows open,” she declared passionately.

On the other side, some avid picklers were horrified at the thought that the sport won’t be able to develop in Centennial for six months. “I'm 74 years old,” said resident Ron Morin. “Pickleball is the only sport that I'm aware of that kids from five to people that are 85 can play.”

In the end, the council voted 8-1 in favor of the moratorium. Councilmember Candace Moon was the only one to vote no, saying she thinks it’s clear the problem is with noise regulation rather than pickleball.

"I looked at this ordinance that we're considering, and I told staff it just hit me all wrong," she said. "We're missing the mark. We should be talking about noise. I almost blame myself for missing the boat, because I should have picked up that we are not addressing our noise issue here in the city."

Moon noted how land development codes in the city haven’t been revised since 2005, and she’d like to see the city look into the noise ordinance overall rather than take away from the warm summer months when pickleball is most popular.

“Do we really want to take a Band-Aid approach, which I believe this ordinance does in looking specifically at one cause of noise?" Moon said. "Or do we need to sit down and rewrite our noise ordinance in our land development code?”

The other councilmembers all expressed that they aren't against pickleball, with Councilmember Christine Sweetland even sharing that she’s paying for her child to take a pickleball elective at college — but they agreed that more information was needed to move forward.

"Based on what we've learned tonight, I think a moratorium is appropriate,” said Councilmember Mike Sutherland. “There are so many loose ends that have not been tied up in terms of what is acceptable and what's not acceptable for pickleball courts that are close to residential areas."

Sutherland added that Centennial has a history of being proactive as a city, and getting regulations in place prior to court development would help the city avoid a hodgepodge of different regulations for different courts. "We're a community of neighborhoods," Sweetland said. "We should be a community of neighborhoods that work together, and this feels like it could easily drive a wedge if we don't have some good parameters put into place."

The council hopes that with the time a moratorium on pickleball court development gives to create those parameters, Centennial’s residents will be able to focus on their drop shots rather than spats over pickleball noise.
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