Hearings officer partially reopens public hearing for Southlake Park
Possible ex parte (one-sided) contact by the hearings officer presiding over the land use application to build an athletic facility by Willamette United Football Club (WUFC) has led to a limited reopening of the case.
WUFC raised an objection with Clackamas County about the hearings officer, Fred Wilson, listening to testimony about the WUFC application after the public hearing period had closed for a separate application involving the Neighborhood Church and Stafford Academy, which are about one mile from the site of WUFC's proposed facility next to Southlake Church at 1555 S.W. Borland Road.
WUFC Executive Director Ray Nelson said the club raised the issue of ex parte contact with the county because it's only fair for their side to have a chance to respond to the comments opponents made at the Neighborhood Church and Stafford Academy hearing.
"There were some comments made that were inaccurate, some misinformation so we just want to make sure that the facts are presented to the hearings officers so we'll come into that hearing and address the specific comments that were not accurate and we will provide evidence that shows, 'Here's the real story,' so that the hearings officer has all the facts," Nelson said.
Clackamas County planner Clay Glasgow expressed worry that some community members might think this hearing will be a chance to testify on the broader aspects of the Southlake Park proposal.
"It's a very narrow reopening. It's not like we reopened the whole box. We're not going to be discussing the merits of the soccer club application at all," Gaslgow said. "This is very unusual."
The secondary hearing for the WUFC application to discuss the four possible points of ex parte contact will take place Nov. 14, four days before Wilson is supposed to make a decision on the case Nov. 18.
During the hearing for Neighborhood Church and Stafford Academy on Sept. 26, two opponents to WUFC's plans for Southlake Park testified to Wilson about certain aspects of the Southlake case. They mostly discussed the similar use interpretation which allows sports facilities to be built in RRF5 zones (Rural Residential Farm Forest) of Clackamas County, which was relevant to both the WUFC case and the Neighborhood Church case.
Clackamas County noted three other instances that may count as ex parte contact on the part of Wilson.
At the hearing in question, Wilson briefly engaged in a discussion about WUFC's traffic impact study for its own application.
"He (Wilson) did get drawn in a little bit regarding the traffic study, the traffic information submitted for the soccer club because that was the specific item brought up by somebody in the audience and he did make some offhand comment about 'We've got some recent traffic information in the near vicinity,' but that was it," Glasgow said.
"He could have simply slammed the gavel down and said, 'We can't talk about that,' which he did, but he did add a comment."
Opponents have argued that the Southlake plans, which include three outdoor lit artificial turf fields for soccer, football and lacrosse, an indoor training field house, offices for the club, a concession stand, a training room, a walking/ jogging path and a playground, would tarnish the rural character of the surrounding area with additional light, noise and traffic.
The county also notes that Wilson speaking with a county planner about the timeline for a decision on WUFC's application after the public hearing period had closed might be considered ex parte communication.
The fourth instance of possible ex parte contact, according to the county, occurred when Wilson notified the planning director and the county's legal counsel about the citation from WUFC's attorney about the alleged instances of ex parte contact.
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