In the rising popularity of pickleball, the City of Centennial realized its current regulations do not comprehensively address outdoor courts — particularly the noise generated by the paddle hitting the ball.
Now, the city is taking a pause on pickleball court developments to assess what regulations may be needed.
The city council approved a temporary ‘pickleball moratorium’ that city staff recommended during the March 21 meeting. Effective immediately, the establishment of new permanent, outdoor pickleball courts near residential areas will not be permitted in Centennial for six months.
“Moratoriums are an ordinance that temporarily suspend certain approvals (and) activities within a city to allow us time to study, address (and) create regulations if deemed necessary,” said Neil Marciniak, the city’s director of community and economic development.
“The recommended ordinance … presents you with two questions: 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 possibly regulate to limit those noise complaints and other potential impacts that may come along with pickleball,” he said.
The moratorium applies to projects that have not been built or established by the city yet and are proposed to be within 500 feet of residential properties, residentially zoned areas, or residential land uses, he said.
“It puts a six-month pause on the city accepting, processing or reviewing and then an issuance of approvals or permits for outdoor pickleball courts, again, within that 500 feet,” Marciniak said.
Pickleball courts that are already established, permitted and in use currently are not subject to the moratorium, he said. It also does not apply to indoor pickleball courts, courts that are more than 500 feet from residential areas, or temporary courts. A temporary court, for example, is when a tennis court is temporarily altered to be used as a pickleball court.
There is no shortage of videos, news stories and research on the apparent conflict between pickleball courts and adjacent residential uses, Marciniak said. Research shows that one of the main concerns regarding noise from pickleball courts is that the sound that is produced by the impact of the paddle hitting the ball is classified as an “impulsive sound” and is “near the most sensitive frequency range of human hearing,” he said.
Yet, the city’s noise regulations, land development code and municipal code do not specifically address noise or other impacts from pickleball courts, he said.
“This is certainly not a war on pickleball from the city. Our goal here, really, is to create some predictable outcomes for our residents, for pickleball operators, for players, for the community at large,” Marciniak said. “And at this time, the regulations that the city has in place to regulate pickleball courts are not equipped to ensure that predictable outcome throughout the city.”
The moratorium provides time for city staff to study the impact of the pickleball courts and potentially create some new regulations, if the city decides it is necessary, he said. Staff intend to engage with experts in the noise and acoustics field to advise the city on the impacts and potential mitigation options, such as noise-reducing materials like fences, padding and landscaping.
Engaging with residents, pickleball operators, parks and recreation districts and homeowner association (HOA) groups will also be a priority, he noted.
“We’re trying to prevent the noise issue becoming an issue in the city, and we’re asking for some time to be able to study the issue and create standards around it to prevent those noise issues,” he said.
In Centennial, there are currently two permanent outdoor pickleball courts that the city staff are aware of — one in Chenango Park and the other in Smoky Hill Park. However, Senior Assistant City Attorney Jill Hassman noted the city is aware of various HOAs and metro districts interested in adding a pickleball court.
“We know that pickleball is the number one growing sport in the nation, and we also are aware that there’s a huge demand for it. And so, though we only have two permanent courts now, the demand is massive to add so many more permanent courts,” Hassman said. “I think the city is better poised to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to noise.”
Residents, business speak on moratorium
Before the council voted on whether to approve the moratorium, a public hearing was held, providing the community a chance to share their opinions. Of the 20 people who spoke during the public hearing, 11 were in favor and nine opposed the moratorium. Several council members said they received numerous emails regarding this issue as well.
Mayor Stephanie Piko said the council received a “substantial number of comments,” many of which were specifically tied to the proposed outdoor pickleball courts at Life Time Fitness, an athletic country club resort located at 5000 E. Dry Creek Road.
Piko said the council is aware that Life Time has submitted an application to amend its site plan to allow for the new outdoor pickleball courts.
“This moratorium is not directed at or about any proposed pickleball courts at Life Time Fitness or elsewhere in the city,” she said. “Because this is a quasi-judicial matter, it is not appropriate for city council to conduct any investigation or specifically discuss Life Time Fitness or its pending application. So city council would appreciate it if when you direct your comments … that you keep them on task of the moratorium.”
The first people up to the podium were representatives of Life Time.
“I’m here today to speak on behalf of Life Time and our active application for a site plan amendment currently under review of the city. We’ve been working on this application for several months, including conducting community outreach and commissioning a sound study,” said Ashley Astor, a development manager with the Life Time property development team.
Life Time has more than 160 locations across the United States and Canada, and it currently operates more than 450 indoor and outdoor courts with a path to operate more than 600 by the end of 2023, she said. She noted that Life Time is willing to share its resources and knowledge of pickleball design with Centennial for future pickleball developers.
“Adoption (of) this moratorium will halt our in-progress application,” Astor said. “We don’t think we’re the type of project the city needs to delay.”
Allison Alteris also spoke during the public hearing on behalf of Life Time and the organization’s opposition to the temporary moratorium.
“We are not here tonight … to seek your approval of Life Time's plan or to deliberate over the merits of it. We're here tonight to seek your approval of Life Time's ability to just continue processing their plans with the city,” Alteris said. “If the moratorium were adopted in its current form, the city would be prohibited from continuing (to) process Life Time’s amendment, which essentially means no more technical review, no more referral review with any outside agencies and it would just be frozen in time.”
“What we respectfully disagree with is halting effectively eight months worth of work and missing a seasonal construction opportunity when they're effectively already providing what the city wants, which is sound studies, community outreach and then responsive design. The city, in our view, doesn't need the moratorium to get Life Time to give it what it wants,” she added.
Alteris said that Life Time developed an amendment to the moratorium that would allow in-progress applications, like Life Time’s, to continue through the city’s critical review process while the moratorium is in place. Ultimately, there was no motion made by the council to amend the proposed moratorium and include the language Life Time provided.
Others who opposed the moratorium spoke about the value of the sport to physical and mental wellness.
“You need to consider the health, safety and welfare of all the stakeholders, which include the people that play pickleball,” said Michael Evans, a Centennial resident.
Some of the health benefits of pickleball include lowering heart disease risk and reducing loneliness, Evans said.
“I think that, when you’re looking at the City of Centennial, these are the types of activities you want to be making (for) your children and your residents,” he said.
Supporters of the moratorium, on the other hand, also highlighted mental health, with many expressing concerns about what it would be like to live near an outdoor pickleball court and to frequently hear the sound of pickleball. Many residents referred to the proposed Life Time pickleball courts in their comments.
“I think it's important that we take a step back, consider all the facts before deciding on allowing a development. I think it's better for us as a city to make an informed decision, albeit slightly delayed, than deal with future complaints and litigation,” said Ray Sandifer, a Centennial resident living near Life Time. “Given the proximity of our homes, the noise generated by these courts will disrupt our quality of life and the ability to enjoy our homes and our yards with our families.”
Many of those who spoke, regardless of whether they supported the moratorium, agreed that pickleball is a great sport.
“Our issue is not with pickleball. Pickleball is … a great sport,” said Michael McKenzie, of Centennial. “As long as it’s not too close to our neighborhood.”
Council approves moratorium in 8-1 vote
Following the public hearing, the proposed moratorium was approved by the majority of the council in an 8-1 vote. Councilmember Candace Moon was the only opposing vote, saying that the city is missing the mark and should be talking about noise.
“We have to decide whether to vote to look into the noise that pickleball makes or we have to decide another route. I personally think that we need to decide another route,” Moon said. “We need to decide: Do we really want to take a bandaid approach, which I believe this ordinance does, in looking specifically at one cause factor of noise? Or do we need to sit down and rewrite our noise ordinance in our land development code?”
Moon asked for the council’s support in directing staff to review the city’s noise ordinance and develop a more specified ordinance to address the noise issues and complaints that have been brought forth. The council supported the direction.
Several council members who supported the moratorium said they still have lots of questions that need answers.
“I think a moratorium is appropriate. 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. And I think what my perspective is, is that we do need to be proactive on this,” said Councilmember Mike Sutherland.
“I am not against pickleball,” said Councilmember Christine Sweetland. “Centennial does not hate pickleball. We are pickleball enthusiasts — there’s several of us on this council that play pickleball, so don’t walk away with that.”
“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,” she added.
Sweetland, who works as an real estate appraiser, said that the government is one of the influences on property values.
“By doing nothing and by not enacting this moratorium, that a government decision of doing nothing could impact property values — I’ve never thought that in the four years I’ve been on this council, but this moratorium, I think we need more information to ensure that that doesn’t happen,” Sweetland said.
Multiple members of the council thanked those who attended the council meeting and encouraged the public to stay engaged.
“Talk to people, tell two friends, have them tell two friends,” said Mayor Pro Tem Richard Holt. “Let’s get the information — the correct information — out there and check the website. That’s going to be the freshest, most viable information that’s out there.”