The plastic popping sound of pickleballs in Chilmark could be tamped down under a new draft bylaw unveiled by the Chilmark planning board this week. 

Though the board initially considered a moratorium on the construction of new courts in town, the planning board on Monday proposed creating new regulations aimed at noise mitigation for the growing game.

“The planning board didn’t want to outright ban pickleball so our intent is looking at the noise,” planning board member Ann Wallace said at the board’s Monday meeting.

The board started looking at pickleball in October 2023 and found that the thwacking sound of pickleball has been a concern elsewhere. While creating the bylaw, board members considered sound studies from other communities around the country that have had similar concerns, such as Centennial, Colorado and Park City, Utah. 

“Based on that sound study that we were able to read...we learned about the way the sound travels and the fact that the alternative means of mitigating sounds such as fabric cushioning isn’t very effective,” planning board chair Rich Osnoss said. 

The new draft would require any sports court that has “documented noise intrusion” be at least 600 feet away from a property boundary line. When hearing applications for courts, the zoning board of appeals could require an independent sound analysis. 

The bylaw never explicitly mentions pickleball, but says that the rules would apply to “any paddle or racket sport which has documented noise intrusion caused by use of the equipment.”

Some members of the public felt the amendments were vague. 

“I would like to see...more detail on what would be unacceptable levels of noise of a sports court,” Susan Rust said at Monday’s hearing, the eighth held so far about pickleball. “I want to know what acceptable means and how that’s going to be determined.” 

Another concern among the public and board members was the distance in which a court can be constructed and how sound transmission varies depending on topography and weather.

“I didn’t move to Chilmark to hear pickleball,” Paul Iantosca said. “I want to hear birds. I want to hear sheep. I want to hear the waves. Now your study of 600 feet, says that it’s an acceptable decibel level. You need 1,000 feet to have no decibel level. I want no decibel level.” 

After hearing the concerns, Mr. Osnoss said the proposed bylaw is a work in progress.

“Our job is to do what we feel is our homework and to present it the way we feel it’s fair and having done our due diligence, and we’ll keep working on it,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll make it so that the vast majority of townspeople can believe in it and approve it.” 

The next public hearing is scheduled for August 26 at 4:40 p.m.