Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation staff delivered some bad news to members of the Parks Board last week: A planned rehabilitation of the city's indoor Tennis Center cannot include the addition of a fifth court, which was one the project's most-requested features.
The Tennis Center is located inside Springbrook Park, which is set aside as a natural area by the city charter. The designation, which was added to the charter by an initiative petition in 1978 that was overwhelmingly approved by voters, strictly prohibits most development within the park area, including any development of athletic facilities.
The charter amendment included an exemption for the Tennis Center, which had already opened four years earlier. But as Tennis Center Manager Carol Hartley explained last week, it turns out that even a small expansion of the facility's original footprint would run afoul of the park's development rules.
"The fifth court option cannot be pursued," she said. "Encroachment west of the parking lot will not be considered."
The determination comes as a blow to the Lake Oswego tennis community, which had expressed an overwhelming preference for expanding the center during recent community outreach efforts.
At a pair of public design feedback events last month, Parks & Rec staff originally presented attendees with a choice of three design plans for the Tennis Center, each based on an existing upgrade plan that was drafted in 2003 but later shelved.
All three plans were primarily focused on upgrading the amenities and support spaces for the center — which are currently overcrowded and not in compliance with access standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act — as well as adding more parking spaces and improving emergency vehicle access. The two larger-scale plans included additional enhancements, such as a pro office and a fifth court.
The five-court option proved to be the most popular among the Lake Oswego tennis community, which has faced increasingly tight play schedules at the Tennis Center, as well as the pickleball community, whose members are seeking a permanent indoor play area. Pickleball is currently not allowed on the Tennis Center's existing four courts.
A large majority of attendees at the public outreach meetings favored the five-court plan, and it also proved to be the most popular in a subsequent online survey, where voters indicated that the additional court was their most important priority.
All three plans — but especially the five-court plan — were met with opposition from many of the surrounding neighbors, who expressed concerns about increased traffic in the area and said the expanded parking lot would encroach on some of their backyards. The Friends of Springbrook Park also argued that the expansion would violate the city charter.
However, most of those groups said they still supported the lesser modifications, such as adding ADA access, provided that the facility's overall footprint didn't expand.
Moving forward, Parks staff are recommending that the City go back to the original 2003 plan as a starting point for a new design, because the original plan doesn't expand the building's footprint.
According to Hartley, even an expansion of the parking lot footprint would violate the charter, although she said staff are looking into whether a few more spaces and ADA access can be squeezed in by reducing some existing landscaping in the center of the lot.
"It would be few (spaces), but anything helps at this point," she said.
During the earlier public outreach efforts, there were also calls to move the facility somewhere else; many neighbors argued that it shouldn't have been located in Springbrook Park in the first place, and several tennis players said the facility is too small to meet the current demand. Adding one more court wouldn't be enough to solve the problem, they said.
The topic came up again at the Parks Board meeting, and Parks & Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm noted that a 2010-2013 study had looked at the possibility of building a new eight-court facility on a piece of City-owned property near Luscher Farm.
That idea eventually proved to be prohibitively expensive and was shelved, but Anderholm said that in light of the news about the current center, staff would need to sit down with the tennis community and take a renewed look at the idea of alternate tennis locations.
"We in the department have no doubt that there's a need for more indoor year-round tennis facilities in Lake Oswego," he said. "I think the department would be willing to sit with the tennis community and interested stakeholders and look at how we could make that happen."
But in the meantime, staff are still recommending moving forward with a more limited set of modifications to the existing Tennis Center. At one of the open houses, Anderholm told The Review that the ADA access issues can't be put off any longer, and that the facility has some other problems that need to be addressed to maintain operational safety, such as an upgrade to the heating system to prevent ice from forming on the courts.
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