Addition of pickleball courts pits neighbor against neighbor, leads to lawsuits

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., but not everyone is a fan.
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 3:20 PM CST
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PHOENIX (KPHO/Gray News) - The rise of pickleball in an Arizona neighborhood has turned neighbor against neighbor and even led to lawsuits.

Pickleball is described as a mix between tennis, badminton and ping-pong and is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.

The demand for the sport has many cities, towns and homeowners associations trying to keep pace. Many passionate fans are even advocating for basketball and tennis courts to be converted to pickleball courts.

KPHO spoke to Tyler Minton and his wife, Clarissa. They both said it took just a few games to determine they were pickleballers.

Clarissa Minton said it’s an easy game to pick up.

”Then you’re pretty competitive, and everybody can play,” Tyler Minton said.

The couple often plays at Encanto Park in Phoenix. The city has tried to meet the growing demand for the sport over the last few years. They said they’ve converted tennis courts into pickleball courts at two parks and have another in the works.

But in private communities, these changes are more complicated.

Bothered by the noise from the game, Debbie Nagle and her partner, Michael Kucklinca, recorded sound and video from a pickleball court near their house in Scottsdale.

“Painful. It has completely changed my life,” Debbie Nagle said.

In the videos shared with KPHO, the repetitive “popping” noise of the ball hitting the paddles of the players can be heard.

“Very distracting, the high-pitched sound ... you lose your concentration,” Michael Kucklinca said.

The North Scottsdale homeowners said their HOA, Stonegate Community Association, didn’t consult them when they converted a nearby tennis court into two pickleball courts.

“My problem is that the HOA didn’t do due diligence. They didn’t do a sound study prior to putting the courts in,” Nagle said.

Lance Willis with S&W Acoustics and Noise Control told KPHO he sees it all the time. He’s called in to do noise mitigation studies.

“It’s intrusive, it’s a high onset rate, which is similar to other high impact sounds,” Willis said. “The thing that people complain about is the ‘popping’ sound the paddle makes when the ball hits the paddle.”

When compared to tennis, more people are also able to play at one time with pickleball. In conversions, a tennis court is turned into two pickleball courts, which means up to 8 people can play in the same space.

Willis advises against changeovers. He’s usually called in once they’ve been done to conduct a study. He then uses the data from the study to develop a noise abatement plan, which often comes down to putting something between the court and the homeowner, usually in the form of a wall. But Willis admits it doesn’t always fix the problem.

“Pickleball really is different and it needs to be planned for differently than other sports,” he said.

Willis advises courts be at least 150 feet from homes. In the case of Nagle and Kucklinca, the court is only 65 feet away.

Stonegate confirmed to KPHO it recently called in a noise expert. The HOA recommended building two 12-foot walls at a cost of $140,000. Homeowners, including Nagle and Kucklinca, voted it down.

“The HOAs are trying to make everyone happy, so it’s kind of hard for them,” Nagle said.

The last resort for many is suing. Attorney Robert Ducharme, who’s based in New Hampshire, has handled several of these cases.

“It’s a new noise and people aren’t used to it and they’re not sure how to handle it yet,” Ducharme said. He explained that in private communities, HOA boards control the common areas.

“Courts have routinely said that as long as they’re not doing anything blatantly illegal, like saying you can kill someone who loses at pickleball, they can do anything they want,” Ducharme said.

Ducharme said he tells homeowners to “be very careful with your vote, these are the people you are seeding power to.”

“I haven’t seen anyone win one yet and I would be surprised if they did,” Ducharme said about the lawsuits.

The Stonegate Community Association provided a statement saying, in part, that it takes the concerns of all of its residents seriously and took the step of “limiting the pickleball courts hours of use in order to address the noise complaint while balancing the desire of the other residents to continue to have the use of the courts.”

The HOA also said it consulted with a sound abatement specialist to determine what sound modifications could be made to reduce the noise coming from the courts. When the suggestion was made to build a wall at the cost of $140,000, the plan was voted down by the association members.

Nagle and Kucklinca said limiting the hours people can play hasn’t really helped. The courts have become so popular there’s always people playing.

“It’s a great sport I’m sure, and my problem isn’t really with them,” Kucklinca said.

Kucklinca said the ideal outcome for himself and Nagle would be to have the courts removed. The couple said they intend to file a lawsuit.