West Linn sports complex still tied up in planning appeals process
While Willamette United Football Club's plans for South Lake Park focus on soccer fields to be built off Borland Road in rural West Linn, the development's land-use decisions more closely resemble a tennis match, with similar- and conditional-use determinations bouncing back and forth between Clackamas County and the Land Use Board of Appeals.
The lengthy land-use process for the proposed sports complex began in 2017 with a similar-use decision from the county saying that the proposed uses for the complex were similar to the uses allowed in a rural, residential, farm or forest (RRFF5) zoned area. That decision eventually was appealed to LUBA, remanded back to the county and then appealed to LUBA a second time, where it still awaits a ruling.
Following the county's initial similar-use decision, WUFC submitted its conditional-use application to the county. After the county initially approved the conditional-use application, opponents repealed it to LUBA as well. LUBA remanded it back to the county.
The newest decision on the conditional-use remand for Southlake Park is set to come from Clackamas County hearings oOfficer Joe Turner later this month or in early March after a public hearing Feb. 11.
Due to a lack of adequate turf fields for youth sports in the area, WUFC, the soccer club serving West Linn and Wilsonville, had for more than 10 years searched for land in the area to build lighted turf fields that could be used year-round. About four years ago, WUFC struck a lease deal with Southlake Church, which owns the 22 acres of land next to the church on Borland Road.
Throughout this process, a number of residents near the Southlake property have voiced strong opposition to WUFC's plans, leading the charge on the appeals to LUBA.
More than a dozen of these opponents testified before Turner at the Feb. 11 hearing.
Turner and County Planner Clay Glasgow noted at the beginning of the hearing that because LUBA had issued a limited remand of the county's initial decision, only a certain portion of the conditional-use criteria is under scrutiny in this decision: "whether the proposed use is listed as an allowed use in the RRFF-5 Zoning District, as required by Section 1203.(A) of Clackamas County Zoning and Development Ordinance."
In the eyes of the county and LUBA, issues like traffic infrastructure and noise and light impacts already are settled.
Wendie Kellington, the attorney hired by WUFC, argued that the ZDO states that parks are allowed in RRFF-5 zones, and that by all definitions the Southlake Park proposals constitute a park. Additionally, she argued that the county allows "recreational uses" in RRFF-5 zones and the soccer club's proposals were inherently recreational.
Carrie Richter, the attorney hired by Mitch Jones, one of the neighbors opposing the park plans, argued that to understand the park's purpose, one must first understand its scope. She noted that on its busiest days, when WUFC hosted soccer tournaments, Southlake Park would attract thousands of visitors.
Richter argued that Southlake Park wasn't a typical rural nature park, or even a typical neighborhood park. She also noted that the park had everything needed to run youth sports leagues for West Linn and Wilsonville, which themselves are not rural areas.
"My position is that this use is not a sports court (sports courts are listed as an allowable use in RRFF-5). It's not a park because it includes offices and ball fields and all kinds of things that are not listed in the zone," Richter said. "This amalgam of uses — recreational uses and sports uses and similar uses — operating together at a density unlike any of the other uses becomes a fundamentally different use."
The 15 Borland area residents who testified at the Feb. 11 hearing asserted that the park plans were much more befitting to an urban or commercial area than a rural area like Borland.
Nancy Scott said though WUFC was a nonprofit, its plans for the park were more like business plans for a sports club.
Nancy's husband, Steve Scott, contended that no parks in rural areas of Clackamas County have artificial turf fields and stadium lights. He said WUFC's park plans were bigger than even many urban parks in the county.
Jan Weihmann, who lives on Ribera Lane, said the county's current decision-makers likely weren't familiar with the rural history of the area and that the county was expressing a clear bias for urban sprawl by trying to ram through an urban-style, world-class soccer facility.
WUFC Executive Director Ray Nelson contended that the club was not trying to ram the project through, noting that the process initially began in 2015.
"We've gone through every step of the process and done what the county asked us," Nelson said. "We're a local nonprofit, not a big, evil corporation."
While Turner's decision is expected to come in the next few weeks, it may be appealed to LUBA.
Nelson said once the permitting process is complete, and the project has full approval, the club will begin raising money to finance the project.
"We have millions of dollars already committed, but I'm not taking a dollar on this project until we have a permit," Nelson told Pamplin Media Group.
Even with the similar-use decision pending at LUBA and the possibility for Turner's decision to end up at LUBA as well, Nelson said he hopes to have a permit by the end of the year.
"Nothing we're going to do is going to negatively impact anybody out there and the county seems to agree," he added.
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