Pickleball courts leave a sour taste

Noises of various kinds are a common feature of living in a city, even in “quiet” residential neighborhoods. Vehicle traffic, car stereos, lawnmowers and leaf blowers, barking dogs, children at play. All of those can be annoying at times, but most of us put up with them without too much complaint as long as they are not constant, above the level permitted by city ordinance or happening in the middle of the night.

Some neighbors of a new park in southeast Medford are objecting to plans for two pickleball courts because they say the noise will be unpleasant. We’re not convinced some compromise can’t be reached to allow the courts to move ahead.

Pickleball is a popular sport that is a combination of ping pong and tennis. It’s played with a hard plastic ball and hard paddles that make a popping sound when the ball is struck. The game is popular because it is less physically demanding than tennis, using a smaller court.

The city has had requests from residents for pickleball courts. Neighbors of the new park don’t want them, saying they bought their country-style cottages across from the new Village Center Park because they wanted peace and quiet.

But the park has been in the works all along, and parks tend to generate a certain amount of noise. In addition to two pickleball courts — not four, not eight — Village Center also will include a playground and a half basketball court. Children playing in a playground tend to make noise. So do basketball games and the people playing them. If peace and quiet were the residents’ goals, perhaps buying across the street from a park wasn’t the best idea.

A Southern Oregon Pickleball Association official who measured pickleball noise with a decibel meter reported a match at Lithia Park in Ashland generated 51 decibels — quieter than a refrigerator, a car driving past at 15 mph or a normal conversation.

Still, pickleball noise has been an issue in other communities. Solutions have included sound barrier fencing, which can be quite expensive, and paddles made of materials designed to be quieter. Practice balls that are soft rather than hard-surfaced are also quieter, but don’t offer the same performance as standard hard plastic balls.

The residents should be prepared to put up with a certain amount of noise that comes with many normal park activities, pickleball or no pickleball. City officials should explore options for limiting pickleball noise, and perhaps the hours the courts can be used.

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