Opinion mixed on plans for sports park near Maltby

MALTBY — Snohomish County parks director Tom Teigen unveiled a template Monday for building a regional sports complex near Highway 522, but the plan continues to draw mixed reaction.

Sports enthusiasts remain excited about building athletic fields, an indoor arena and mountain-biking areas at the county’s future Wellington Hills park.

Many people who live nearby worry about the traffic, light and noise the $20 million project would bring to their neighborhood. Given those concerns, it remains to be seen whether the county can to stick to its original timetable and start construction next year.

“Even those who have been very concerned about the end result of the park have been very cordial,” Teigen said a meeting Monday with the County Council.

The parks director, who has visited many of the neighbors in their homes, hastened to add, “We are building a better park because of that.”

The latest vision for Wellington Hills includes four lighted, synthetic-turf fields that can be configured for different sports. Plans call for four more grass fields. Combined with other facilities, the park could help attract tournaments for soccer, lacrosse and other team sports.

There would be an off-leash dog park as well, plus miles of paved trails, a 50,0000-square-foot indoor sports arena and a 60,000-square-foot indoor mountain-biking facility that an outside group wants to build.

After additional planning this summer, county parks staff will seek approval of a final master park plan from the County Council. A vote is expected some time in August.

As part of the permitting process, the county will be required, by law, to study the proposed park’s effect on traffic, light and noise, as well as how it will affect water quality, plants and wildlife.

Teigen has said it’s possible to create a result that keeps the sports crowd happy, while also giving people a neighborhood park with lots of trees and picnic areas. The county has made promises to keep about three-quarters of the park wooded or natural.

Neighbors such as Todd Bailey want the county to keep Wellington Hills as a woodsy area, for family picnics and nature walks. They believe it would be appropriate for the county to buy a separate property in an industrial area and use that for a sports complex.

“If they keep on down this path and put in the ballfields, it’ll be a win for the sports enthusiasts,” Bailey said. “It’s not going to be a win for the residents and the neighbors. It will be a loss for them.”

Nancy Bacon has lived in her home immediately south of the proposed park since 1974 and wants to keep her community’s character intact.

“I think everybody is well-intentioned,” Bacon said. “I just don’t want to see a beautiful neighborhood destroyed.”

Neighbors want assurances about the hours the park would be open. Another criticism has been that the county’s park plans include too many “pay to play” facilities instead of free amenities that are open to the public, particularly those who live nearby.

Parks staff say that even with field rentals, concession stands and the private biking facility, most of the park would remain open to everyone. The fees would go a long way, they estimate, toward covering the park’s operating costs.

A board member from Northshore Youth Soccer who has a background in land-use planning spoke at Monday’s council meeting to say it’s possible to please both sides, by creating a community park that’s also open to a variety of sports.

“I think you have the opportunity to make this a very special place for people throughout the region,” said Tom Campbell, who also sits on an ad-hoc committee guiding the park’s design.

Sean Curran, owner of Northwest Indoor Mountain Bike Parks, has been in talks with the county about developing the indoor cycling facility on the north end of the property.

“It’s already gaining a lot of attention and enthusiasm from the greater biking community,” Curran said.

He added: “I can’t wait to see it happen.”

Wellington Hills is the county’s largest ongoing park project.

The county bought the 100-acre property from the University of Washington earlier this year for $10 million after receiving unanimous support from the County Council. The land sits east of the junction of Highways 9 and 522.

The money for it comes from part of the $70 million settlement that Snohomish County received in 2005 as compensation for King County’s Brightwater sewage treatment plant, which is a short distance from the Wellington Hills property. About $30 million of the settlement was set aside for recreation and parks, including the county’s unfinished Tambark Creek and Miner’s Corner parks.

A centerpiece of the agreement called for a Maltby-area park within four miles of the Brightwater plant. After years of searching, the county decided to fulfill that requirement with the Wellington Hills property.

After buying the land, the county had another $13 million available to develop the park, obtain permits and improve 240th Street SE, which runs through the property.

A nine-hole golf course that has been on the property since the 1930s is scheduled to close in the fall.

The county’s final big community outreach meeting about the park took place Tuesday night. The planning process is expected to continue throughout the summer.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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