Officials in Chilmark are pursuing a new bylaw that would ban the construction of new pickleball courts in town. 

The planning board voted Tuesday to initiate the public hearing process on the prohibition of court construction. The board was previously considering a moratorium after complaints about the potential proliferation of the sport. 

The new course works as a “de facto moratorium” on new courts though, said planning board member Peter Cook, giving the board time to hear community input before deciding on permanent regulations. 

“We can either come up with something that’s pretty clear, or something that kicks the can down the road,” said Mr. Cook, at the meeting this week. 

The board did not have a draft bylaw in hand this week. Any bylaw that emerges from the process would have to be approved at town meeting. 

A sport similar to tennis but played on a smaller court with paddles, pickleball has become popular across the country. Recently, Chilmark residents have raised concerns about the noise level of the game, and the impact a court could have on neighbors.

In a memo sent to the board, Mr. Cook explained that the strategy of pursuing a public hearing was based on advice from town legal counsel, who pointed out that a moratorium would not go into effect until it was voted on at town meeting. 

“Town counsel suggested that…the quickest way would be to announce a public hearing on a ban on pickleball courts,” Mr. Cook wrote. “The hearing itself would have the effect of a moratorium in that any construction of a [pickleball] court during the deliberation would be disallowed if/when a bylaw change banning such courts were passed.”

Some board members at the meeting Tuesday expressed concerns about enacting the bylaw.

“How broad is this ban going to be?” asked board member Catherine Thompson. “If you have a pickleball paddle in their car, are you subject to search and seizure?”

Board chair Richard Osnoss clarified that the ban would only apply to the construction of pickleball courts, but Mr. Osnoss had his own concerns. 

“If we pursue a ban,” he said, “there may be some disturbed people.”

Mr. Cook argued that an outpouring of pro-pickleball participants in public hearings could be a benefit, since the board has only had anti-pickleball correspondence thus far. He also raised concerns about a “flood of applications” which might come in if they allowed new pickleball courts between now and the next town meeting.

The board ultimately voted to initiate the public hearing process on banning new courts.

That proposal will now require approval from the town select board at its next meeting.