Net Gain

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / maxriesgo

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / maxriesgo

Paddle tennis started in the late 1920s as an outlet for tennis enthusiasts seeking to keep their skills sharp during New England’s long, cold winters. Instead of hanging up their racquets for the season, these sportsmen created a new game involving a smaller court, wire fencing, and—most importantly—a heat source to melt the ice and keep the players warm. Paddle tennis, or as it is sometimes referred to, platform tennis, has grown in popularity over the years, with new public and private facilities opening across the country. Most facilities are located in cold-weather climates. 

Paddle tennis is similar to traditional tennis, although on a smaller, faster, and more social scale. The court is roughly one-third the size of a tennis court, and elevated above the ground. Heaters are placed under the court to prevent ice from forming on the playing surface. Instead of grass or clay, the surface is made of wood or aluminum that is coated in gritty paint to provide traction for players. Matches are either singles or doubles play (doubles play is more common), and players use paddles instead of racquets to strike a solid rubber ball. Small warming buildings are commonly constructed to shelter spectators and players before, during, and after matches. 

The increasing popularity of the sport presents park districts an opportunity to generate additional revenue by expanding services during the off-season. Because paddle tennis has only recently caught on outside of New England, however, many communities are unfamiliar with this activity and unprepared to accommodate this sport. Few local zoning codes address where paddle tennis courts may be built, how many hours they may operate, and whether the courts may be lit for nighttime play. 

This regulatory uncertainty can catch interested park districts by surprise, ultimately adding time and costs to projects. Park districts should understand how zoning officials regulate these facilities and what concerns are commonly raised by the public. As always, park officials should work closely with the local zoning authority to ensure that all questions are addressed.


Many zoning codes require paddle tennis courts to comply with setback requirements applicable to accessory structures like patios, decks, and detached garages. Generally speaking, this means that a court must not encroach onto a property’s front yard setback, and must remain a specific distance (typically 5 feet to 10 feet) from the side and rear property lines. Some communities also enforce minimum separation requirements between paddle tennis facilities and other structures (commonly 5 feet) to prevent fire, safety, and accessibility issues. Park districts should take these regulations into account when evaluating potential locations for paddle tennis facilities. 

In addition to zoning considerations, proposals to construct paddle tennis courts immediately adjacent to residential neighborhoods are often met with objections. A careful site-selection process can eliminate many of these objections altogether. Park districts should strongly consider constructing platform tennis facilities near parking lots and existing recreation facilities, like playgrounds, tennis or other outdoor courts, and concession stands. Many existing recreation areas already generate traffic and noise well beyond what is created by paddle tennis facilities. If a paddle tennis court must be located near residences, a park district should install heavy, non-deciduous landscaping to provide a visual and sound buffer between the court and the neighboring residences. 

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