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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Council acts on residents’ concerns about sport court noise, lighting

Oct 10, 2023 03:09PM ● By Cassie Goff

Example photos of backyard pickleball courts, indoor pickleball courts and sport courts. (Mike Johnson/Cottonwood Heights)

Numerous residents voiced their concerns about construction of sports courts in residential areas to the Cottonwood Heights City Council on Aug. 15. Those public comments inspired the city council to discuss the possibility of updating their ordinances, composing additional regulation, and a potential moratorium on planned construction during their meeting on Sept. 5; especially given the city does not currently have an ordinance in place to regulate sports courts directly. 

“However, we do have other ordinances that affect sport court construction,” explained Community and Economic Development Director Mike Johnson.

Even though there are various types of sports courts like tennis courts, volleyball courts and basketball courts, the council discussions focused primarily on pickleball courts with the rise in popularity and the pending permit applications for at least two pickleball courts within residential areas of the city. 

The two main themes arose from the numerous resident concerns: the lighting and noise produced by sports courts that then overflow and intrude on neighbors.  

Johnson overviewed the Outdoor Lightning Ordinance (Chapter 19.77 in the Cottonwood Heights Municipal Code), adopted in 2019, as the current ordinance in control of mandating all outdoor lighting throughout the city. All outdoor lighting includes lighting from homes, sports courts and other lighting sources on a property. 

Current regulations within the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance require lighting fixtures to be at least 12 feet high, no more than 3,000 kelvin lightbulbs and overall site illumination standards. Per the code and common regulation standards, outdoor lighting illumination standards do get measured by lumens per acre. 

“We have limits on how bright a bulb can be before it has to be a full cut off,” explained Johnson. “Full cut off means light cannot be sensed on the property line; it doesn’t mean you can’t see the light from backyard to backyard.”

Based on Johnson’s research, however, a typical pickleball court would require lighting fixture poles to be above 20 feet, 5,000 kelvin lightbulbs, and at least 40,000 overall lumens to properly light the court. All of which would not be allowed per the current ordinance. 

“We are striving to not have so much light pollution in our communities,” said Councilmember Ellen Birrell. 

Johnson responded with the possibility of prohibiting sport court lighting altogether, even though it wouldn’t be recommended. 

“I think if a project followed our ordinance there wouldn’t be a huge issue,” Johnson said. 

The recommendation for bright lighting on a pickleball court would also mean the intended usage of the court could continue well into the evening as there would not be a natural perceived cut-off time of being too dark to play. Having brighter and extended light leads to noise continuing well past sunlight hours, which was the next theme within concerns voiced by Cottonwood Heights residents. 

“Pickleball is not a continuous noise,” Johnson said. “The pitch of a plastic ball being hit by a plastic paddle is more of an annoyance than the volume of the actual noise itself.” 

Cottonwood Heights abides by Salt Lake County’s noise regulations. The Health Code only allows for noise to be 10 decibels above ambient sound (not to exceed 60 decibels) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. At night, sound should only be perceived at 5 decibels above ambient sound, not exceeding 50 decibels. 

Pickleball play can generate noise up to 70 decibels measured up to 100 feet away from the court. That exceeds Salt Lake County’s noise regulations, but also trumps the noise from playing tennis which averages around 40 decibels. 

Johnson recommended the city’s ordinance could establish that sport court construction require a distance of 100 feet away from existing property lines (measured at receiving property line). 

“The setback could help to dissipate the noise. Fencing materials and vegetation could be looked at to help with noise too,” Johnson recommended. 

For most sports courts within the city, the city requires a 10-foot backstop to keep balls from going onto surrounding properties. 

The last city ordinance that directly impacts the construction of sports courts is Sensitive Lands Evaluations and Development Standards (SLEDS) (Chapter 19.72 in the Cottonwood Heights Municipal Code). An included provision within SLEDS limits impervious surface to 30% of a total site including roofs, driveways, walkways and other hardscape surfaces. 

“This can indirectly impact the size and location of sports courts,” Johnson explained. 

Ultimately, Johnson recommended that the council could consider a reasonable proximity requirement with options to require noise mitigation studies if closer to existing properties. 

“I think commercial activity in people’s private property should be a different discussion compared to pickleball mitigation. My recommendation would be to break those two apart,” said Councilmember Matthew Holton. 

Councilmember Scott Bracken echoed, “The only way this is going to get done in a timely manner if we keep it pretty straightforward.”

On Sept. 5, Councilmember Bracken motioned to pass Ordinance 402: Establishing Temporary Land Use Regulations for Non-Vegetative Outdoor Playing Areas and Commencing Proceedings to Amend Ordinances. Councilmember Birrell seconded the motion. Both councilmembers voted in favor, along with Councilmember Shawn Newell. However, Councilmember Holton and Mayor Mike Weichers voted in opposition.

With a 3-to-2 vote in favor, Ordinance 402 passed and enacted a temporary land use regulation for “sports courts” (and similar non-vegetative outdoor playing areas) and commenced proceedings to amend the city’s code of ordinances pursuant to Utah Code. These current regulations may be in effect for up to six months, during which time the city will be in the process of creating and adopting updated regulations to the existing ordinances.   λ