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San Juan School District backs off on Carter Ave. fields improvements

Pulls application for second phase of improvements; town says no school games

Citing town restrictions and concerns from neighbors, the San Juan Island School Board and the Friday Harbor Athletic Association withdrew a conditional use permit application for further improvements to the Carter Avenue sports fields site.

“What’s become clear over time, is that the timing for moving forward with an additional CUP just isn’t good right now,” Superintendent Michael Soltman said at the July 30 school board meeting.

“In light of the progress that we’re making and the funding issues, it’s going to make more sense to pursue a second CUP at a later date that’s undetermined at this time.”

The public hearing on the second permit application was scheduled for Thursday at the Grange. That meeting has been canceled.

According to Soltman, the sports fields are scheduled, weather permitting, to be graded and planted this month or in September and be usable by summer 2009.

Neighbors in the adjacent area complained to the town about several items the school district asked for in the second permit, including amplified sound, permanent fixed scoreboards, bleacher pads and a maintenance shed measuring 36 feet by 60 feet.

Those requests, and two of the requested bleacher pads, were rejected by town Land Use Administrator Michael Bertrand.

Bertrand, who lives in the Village Grove neighborhood next to the sports fields, reiterated the town’s position that the fields are to be used for community use — school sports practices included — but that no officially sanctioned school games can be played on the fields once they’re completed.

Soltman said Friday that in all likelihood, there would be an additional permit application to the town for needed improvements, and that application is likely at least a year away.

“We want to finish the commitments we’ve started. That’s the priority,” Soltman said.

Former Friday Harbor Town Council member Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, who also lived in the Village Grove neighborhood, guessed that one of the reasons for the school’s withdrawal of its application might have something to do with the conditions put forward by the town. He described those conditions as “phenomenally strict,” and said “the second CUP was written extremely tight.”

Work is currently under way with building of the community play fields, divided into two phases of development. Phase 1 calls for the construction of a baseball field, softball field and a football field, dubbed “multi-use.” Phase 2, scheduled for 2008-10, adds an additional softball field and two soccer fields.

While the construction schedule calls for the sports field to be installed in separate phases, Soltman said all six fields would be graded at the same time — a violation of the original and only permit now in place now that the second application has been withdrawn.

The land has already been cleared of trees and stumps, but is not level yet. A stop-work order would be placed on the finish grading “when the work starts,” Bertrand said.

The town’s rationale for not allowing the second trio of fields in Phase Two to be completed stems from engineering changes put forward by the school district to handle rainfall run-off, including making changes to the retention ponds and installing below grade pipes to direct run-off to those ponds, items that were not part of the original plan.

“It was going to be surface drainable,” Bertrand said, “They’re planning on putting pipes down under the field and installed along the perimeter directing the water towards the retention area. That was not part of the original permit. It’s probably OK, we just need an engineer’s plans saying it works.”

Since the fields are being developed in a residential area, a conditional use permit was required to ensure that their construction and use didn’t violate the area’s intended uses. Community use parks are allowed by state law, provided the process goes through the CUP process.

The second application from the school district called for infrastructure normally found at a location where games are played, including a public address system, permanent bleacher locations, and permanent scoreboards and their inclusion in the second application suggests that the school district plans on utilizing the fields in that way, something that is not allowed by the existing CUP.

“They think they’re going to be playing games there,” Bertrand said. “We’ve been very specific that the fields are not to be used for games. This is a single-family zone and it’s not for schools. If they played games there, that would make it a school facility and a school facility is not allowed in this zone. We went through this before they applied for the first permit.”

Soltman responded, “I think when you go through and take a look at the original CUP in 2005, there was nothing in there that said they were going to be used only as practice fields. Our intention at the time is that we would use them to play soccer and baseball and softball on them. And that we would share them with other community groups that wanted to use them.”

The original 2005 permit does not limit how the fields are to be used, but instead calls for an “Operations Agreement” to be filed with the town before the fields are to be used, securing public access to the fields and stipulates that a “majority” of their use is expected to be between sunrise and sunset.

Stormwater retention ponds, fencing, curbs, parking and the building of a restroom are included in the original CUP. What was not approved was any use of an amplified public address system, permanent electronic scoreboards, both of which were included in the second CUP that has been subsequently withdrawn after at least 10 of 15 letters from the community complained about the application for their installation.

Those sentiments were acknowledged by Friday Harbor Athletic Association President Don Galt Jr. “The conditions on which the town was holding us to were overwhelming for us as a non-profit organization,” Galt said. “The hoops the town were asking us to go through were pretty big.”

The town received 15 letters from residents, mostly from the affected neighborhoods objecting to elements in the second CUP, and complaining, generally how the process of building the fields has run rough-shod over neighborhood expectations as to both the process and scope of their development.

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