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Add lighting to the list of concerns about planned State College pickleball court

"Clark Nine at Centre Hills" sign on the grass at a golf course
Anne Danahy
The Centre Hills Country Club in State College wants to build a new facility, including pickleball and tennis courts with lighting, next to a residential area in neighboring College Township, Centre County.

When it comes to pickleball, disputes often revolve around noise. But what about lighting?

The Centre Hills Country Club is asking permission to install outdoor lighting taller than what’s normally allowed to the pickleball and tennis courts that will be part of a new 11-acre project it's planning to build. But that lighting variance request was met with skepticism from both residents and zoning board members during a State College Zoning Hearing Board hearing Tuesday.

A map showing where the Centre Hills Country Club plans to build new facilities near homes on Scenery Drive.
State College Planning Commission
This image from the State College Planning Commission's April 3, 2024, meeting shows where Centre Hills Country Club wants to build a facility including pickleball and tennis courts next to a residential area in neighboring College Township.

Borough rules say the outdoor lights on the courts can only be 15 feet high. Centre Hills wants to install 20-foot-high lights, and is asking for an exception. The club says the lighting will make the courts safer. But residents who spoke said it will mean light pollution.

Simba Zaffino, who lives in the neighboring Nittany View Meadow development, said the space has been completely dark in the 20-plus years she’s lived there. And the pickleball and tennis courts will be in her sightline.

“I am highly concerned about the glare, the noise — which is not a topic today, but I would like it to be at some point — and the lights that are going to project off of these particular courts in this space," Zaffino said.

She was one of the residents who spoke during the hearing, which started in March and was continued.

The "Nittany View Meadow" sign outside a condo development.
Anne Danahy
The Nittany View Meadow condominiums is next to the area where the Centre Hills Country Club in State College wants to build a new facility, including pickleball and tennis courts with lighting.

Donna Queeney, chair of the Zoning Hearing Board, said the lighting request was not based on either hardship or other conditions that the board had been made aware of and that would make the variance necessary.

“If we are to stick with the ordinance, which is our responsibility, I think I for one feel that the variance should not be granted," Queeney said.

The two other board members present agreed. Queeney said they will pass the information on to the board’s lawyer to draft a decision and vote on it at the next meeting.

Noise concerns and review by the Planning Commission

Planning Director Ed LeClear said the borough does have two ordinances that deal with noise violations, but both only speak to the impact on the borough and borough residents. The proposed pickleball courts are in the State College borough, while the neighboring houses and condos are in College Township.

"So what we are exploring with the solicitor is what would happen if the nuisance, or the thing that's causing the noise, occurs in the borough, but the affected parties live in College Township?" LeClear said. "I don't have a legal answer on that yet, but we're working on it."

And there are no rules specifically focused on pickleball.

LeClear said his office has heard from concerned residents.

"We understand the citizens' complaints," he said. "We hope this is not going to be a nuisance, and we're trying to find out if it becomes one, then what are the resources that we have and that the residents that are adjacent have. So that's my focus right now is getting those answers."

In the meantime, LeClear's office and the Planning Commission are reviewing Centre Hills' plans, which were submitted for review.

"In this situation, at this point, there isn't anything that would allow us to deny the plan," Le Clear said. "It's meeting the ordinance, as far as the use goes."

He said the borough can't deny approval of the plans just because something could become a nuisance in the future.

LeClear said after the review has been completed, his office will send Centre Hills a letter that conditionally approves the project and outlines any conditions that are outstanding or changes that need to be made. If the Zoning Hearing Board denies the request for taller lights, Centre Hills would need to amend the plans. Once the conditions have been met, the project can proceed.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.