Noise. Lights. Crowds. Pickleball problems plague neighbors

Jul 7, 2023, 11:02 AM | Updated: 11:50 am

STANSBURY PARK, Utah —The pickleball craze in Utah means many cities can’t build courts fast enough to satisfy demand.

That demand in Stansbury Park landed a pickleball court mere feet from homes, much to the surprise of residents.

“We were actually the first ones to move in, in the final phase,” Bryce Monk, whose home abuts the pickleball court, said.

He built his home nearly a decade ago, backing up to Porter Way Park.

Monk said he can’t recall any time the space was designated for pickleball courts.

“It was actually curbed and guttered for a parking lot,” he said.

As the sport gained popularity, so did requests for the courts. The Stansbury Service Agency, which oversees the park, took action to meet that demand.

“They just moved very quickly for these courts to go in,” said Monk.

The six-member board voted in August 2020 to install six pickleball courts at Porter Way Park. Construction began two months later.

According to a grant application by the SSA, the area in the park “has been reserved for the construction of pickleball courts for several years.”

Monk and his neighbors claim that was never clear.

“When this went in, it was a complete shocker to us,” said Jon Nesbitt, whose home also backs up to the pickleball courts.

“They didn’t tell us it was coming in,” said neighbor Susan Patience, “[We] kind of heard it through the grapevine.”

Now that the pickleball courts are here, neighbors agree: They are a menace.

The sounds, the lights, and the volume of people were not expected. The noise, they claim, is nearly constant from morning until after dark.

Nesbitt said it causes issues as he works from home.

“I’ll be in meetings in the morning, and I’ll be asked by my coworkers what that sound is,” he said, “and they can hear the thunk, thunk, thunk of the ball going back and forth. On some meetings, I have to take them in the back of the house away from my computer to just try and get away from the sound, and that doesn’t even solve the problem sometimes.”

“It’s like having a party in your backyard the whole time,” said Patience. “We had a birthday party for my granddaughter, and we’re out singing and the next think you know, all the people from the pickleball court are singing happy birthday and yelling, and it’s like, you’re not invited to this party.”

“This is a private area that you don’t get to have private anymore,” Patience lamented.

No rules, just recommendations

Most Utah municipalities do not have codes for pickleball courts, so KSL Investigators consulted USA Pickleball to see if there are any rules when it comes to constructing courts.

“There are no rules,” said Carl Schmits, a managing director for USA Pickleball. “There are many variables to take into consideration.”

Schmits said one of those variables is noise ordinances.

“Once you understand that, then you can start to look at if a facility was put there, how far it should be from the homes,” said Schmits.

Schmits said they’ve done quite a bit of research, and found if the sound needs to be kept to 60 decibels, courts should be 200 feet from homes.

For Porter Way Park, which under city code carries a 65-decibel maximum during the day, Schmits said the courts should be 100 feet from homes.

Those calculations were never worked. The SSA told KSL a sound study was never done for the courts.

KSL Investigators used a decibel meter near the neighborhood fence line closest to the courts to see just how loud it is for neighbors.

With every smack of the paddle, our readings mostly stayed at or under the 65-decibel threshold, peaking a few times around 68 decibels.

But Tooele County’s noise ordinance also mentions “repetitive impulsive noise” as being forbidden.

Monk thinks the pickleball courts fall under that rule.

“I don’t know exactly the definition of impulsive, but it seems pretty impulsive to me,” said Monk. “It also mentions repetitive. Sounds pretty repetitive to me.”

The SSA’s board chairperson wouldn’t discuss the matter on camera, but sent KSL a lengthy email statement, stating, “Before the Porter Way Park courts were built, the idea was discussed in multiple public meetings.”

And that, “a board member even knocked on doors and consulted residents in the neighborhood about the project. No residents expressed concern about the project.”

KSL did find one Utah municipality who has created rules for pickleball courts.

Park City created an ordinance in spring of 2022, mandating courts must be set 600 feet from property lines, unless sound studies show the sound falls below the noise ordinance. If that’s the case, courts must be at least 150 feet from property lines.

Bright lights, little sleep

After the courts were built, it wasn’t just the noise affecting life in the neighborhood.

Neighbors said every night, as the sun begins to set, another issue comes to light—the court’s bright lights.

“They’re horribly bright,” noted Patience.

“Now we come out, and you have this glow over the house,” said Nesbitt.

That glow, some of the neighbors said, is finding its way into their homes, up until ten o’clock at night.

“The biggest thing is I can’t go to sleep,” said Monk. “We’ve moved our bedroom downstairs.”

Because of complaints, the SSA said they’ve “tilted the lights” and “installed shields to block the lights” from nearby homes.

Neighbors said the adjustments have slightly helped, but the overall issue remains to be solved.

They’re still trying to understand why, with nearly 30 acres of open land in the park, why the SSA built these courts so close to homes.

“From this window to that light post is 50 feet,” Monk explained. “I would say these courts should be moved down to the north side, where they have the distance away from homes.”

Possible remedies?

The issue has been before the SSA for multiple months. During the May public meeting, board members agreed to do a sound study with an engineer to see if any changes should be made.

When KSL reached out to the SSA’s general manager, he said the engineers indicated the study would be difficult to produce, due to the short sounds of the pickleball hitting the paddle.

He indicated they considered sound dampening around the court, but it would cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to install to reduce the sound by 10 decibels.

According to Schmits, there are multiple ways to dampen the sounds of pickleball courts, including dampening blankets around the chain-link fence and quieter paddles.

As for moving the courts, it’s not likely. The SSA board chair told KSL, “The concerned residents are more than welcome to raise money to move or enclose the courts. If they do that, I would imagine the board would be happy to arrange it.”

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Noise. Lights. Crowds. Pickleball problems plague neighbors