County again approves Southlake sports park permit
The land-use dispute over Southlake Park, a Stafford area sports complex proposed by Willamette United Football Club, continues as residents in the area plan to appeal Clackamas County's recent approval of the soccer club's conditional-use permit.
On March 10, Clackamas County Hearings Officer Joe Turner stamped his approval on the park's permit (the second such approval from the county since WUFC first proposed the complex) but residents in the area said they plan to appeal the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals again.
The county had already approved the Southlake conditional use permit in late 2019, but a group of locals called Keep Borland Rural appealed the decision. LUBA remanded the permit back to the county, leading to Turner's decision earlier this month.
The park plans include three 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.
Because LUBA's decision to kick the permit back to the county was a "limited remand," Turner was only tasked with looking at "whether the proposed use is listed as an allowed use in the RRFF-5 (rural, residential, farm, forest) Zoning District, as required by Section 1203.(A) of Clackamas County Zoning and Development Ordinance."
Arguments from WUFC and Keep Borland Rural focused on whether or not the proposed uses fit the county's definition of "recreational" and "park," which are listed as allowed uses in RRFF-5 zones. "We are very pleased with the Hearings Officer's decision that recognizes that youth sports are recreation," WUFC Executive Director Ray Nelson wrote in an email to the Tidings.
Mitch Jones, a member of Keep Borland Rural, believes a LUBA judge will likely disagree.
He maintained the 20-plus acre facility does not fit the rural character of the Borland area.
Carrie Richter, the attorney hired by Jones to argue on behalf of Keep Borland Rural, maintained that the size and scope of the soccer club's proposal made it entirely different from a typical neighborhood park.
"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," Richter said during the Feb. 11 public hearing before Turner.
Richter, Jones and the other Borland residents also argued that there are no parks similar to the proposed size of Southlake Park in any other rural parts of the county. Keep Borland Rural asserted that the park plans would be much more appropriate for an urban setting.
Despite the testimony from Richter and residents in the area, Turner ruled that the combination of proposed uses constitute a park.
"When the plain and ordinary meaning of a term in the code is broad enough to encompass a proposed use, that use is permitted and should be allowed," Turner wrote in the final order.
Turner's findings also noted that the absence of similar facilities in RRFF-5 zones didn't not mean that the proposal should be disallowed.
"The plain language of the Code does not require evidence of existing similar facilities in the rural area," Turner wrote. "The opponents' interpretation would preclude a finding that a newly created recreational use is similar to a listed use where no such use currently exists."
Nelson told the Tidings that despite the concerns of Keep Borland Rural, Southlake Park will not negatively impact anyone, but instead serve as a valuable asset for the community.
"We feel a strong obligation to our community to support our schools, families and cities, with an incredible place for our children to play and learn so they have the best chance of maturing into healthy adult citizens," Nelson said. "Our team is dedicated to see this project through although please make no mistake, it has been hard."
Promising to appeal the county's decision to LUBA in the coming days, Jones noted that the Stafford Community Planning Organization had voted to oppose Southlake Park.
"Proceeding with this facility in RRFF-5 makes no sense," Jones said. "There is an abundance of industrial and commercial land to locate this facility."
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