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Willamette United facility may break ground next spring, but Fieldhouse Athletics facility no longer in the cards

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The design for Willamette United's facility next to Southlake Church remains largely the same, but the nonprofit did decide to remove the amphitheater that was part of the original plan. Over the past year, Willamette United Football Club (WUFC) Executive Director Ray Nelson has gotten a crash course in the finer points of the local land use approval process.

It seemed fairly straightforward back in June 2017, when Nelson and Jim Brazeau — the president and director of coaching at WUFC — announced plans to build a 20-acre, $12 million facility next to Southlake Church on Borland Road that would house three outdoor athletic fields, an indoor training facility, an amphitheater and 300 parking spaces. At that point, they planned to apply for a conditional use permit (CUP) with Clackamas County within the next two months and expected to break ground in early 2018.

That timetable wasn't meant to be, but Nelson said the project is still moving forward after a Clackamas County land use decision came back in WUFC's favor. The organization is now preparing to apply for a conditional use permit this fall.

"Best case is we'll know (the decision) right before Christmas, but it could be the end of January," Nelson said. "The earliest (construction start date) would be late spring next year."

The delay came after WUFC learned of a prior decision that sports fields were not allowed as a conditional use on the property.

"So we spent eight months going through what is called a 'similar use' process, where we petitioned the county to change it," Nelson said.

Specifically, WUFC argued that sports fields should be considered part and parcel with park use, which was allowed as a conditional use.

"What we petitioned was that a sports field is part of a park," Nelson said. "By saying you can't use sports fields, you're taking out what is probably one of the biggest pieces of a park."

It proved to be a significant investment of time and money (Nelson estimated WUFC spent about $75,000 during the similar use process) but after winning that battle earlier this year, WUFC is ready to move forward. SUBMITTED PHOTO - Ray Nelson says there's a strong need for new sports fields in West Linn, and Willamette United hopes to add three new outdoor fields as well as an indoor training facility.

WUFC, a youth soccer organization with about 3,000 participants from all around the Portland metro area, currently operates under a lease with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District to use three fields at West Linn's Athey Creek Middle School. But the organization has been looking for a new space since 2008, according to Nelson, largely because the school district continues to grow and there was no guarantee that the Athey Creek lease would be renewed in 2020.

The outdoor turf fields at the proposed facility would have lights, and could be used for soccer, football and lacrosse. Nelson believes the versatile development would be a boon to the whole community, though over the past year WUFC has made some concessions and adjustments to its plan in an effort to address concerns from neighbors. The proposed amphitheater, for instance, was removed due to noise concerns.

But Nelson added that the plan is still 95 percent the same as it was when it was first introduced. Thus, traffic remains a primary concern for residents in the Stafford area — but Nelson said WUFC has spent $40,000 on traffic studies and doesn't expect the facility to cause significant problems.

"Our club has the Athey Creek fields (already)," he said. "So we're not adding much new traffic; it's just the existing traffic that will move down the road a bit."

Over the last year, WUFC has also worked to secure financial partners in support of the $12 million price tag.

"Nothing is closed yet, because we have to have a conditional use permit," he said. "But we have the building blocks of a financial package."

Nelson added that field access continues to be a significant need in the community, and that the project was not intended to be a cash grab for WUFC.

"We're a nonprofit — no one in the field is going to get rich," Nelson said. "We want to do it in the best possible way."

Fieldhouse Athletics stalled

A proposal for a 95,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility at 19995 S.W. Stafford Road — next to Wanker's Corner — is off the table.

The facility, proposed by Fieldhouse Athletics LLC and estimated to cost between $12-$15 million, was expected to include a full-sized soccer field as well as a mezzanine, bar and restaurant. A conditional use permit for the facility was approved by Clackamas County in 2015, and records at the county indicate that Fieldhouse Athletics started the process of acquiring a building permit for the facility.

However, Clackamas County Permit Technician Christine Cannon said that the county has been waiting for additional information from Fieldhouse Athletics since May 20, 2017.

On Aug. 14, an architect informed the county that the permit application was being withdrawn.

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