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Live Blog: Decision on Airport's Proposed Soccer Complex Expected on Dec. 17

Check here for a summary of the City Council meeting on the proposed recreational facility at the San Rafael Airport.

Local residents crowded in the Council Chambers for several hours to voice their opinions on the San Rafael Airport's proposed soccer complex, but council members will wait until Dec. 17 to make a decision on the application.

In a meeting that lasted over six hours, city officials and members of the public discussed the possible construction of a 39-foot-tall sports complex, built by the San Rafael Airport and Sports City. Due to the long meeting time, the council will meet again on Dec. 17 where they will discuss the project and vote.

The recreation complex is 85,700 square feet and will have indoor and two outdoor soccer fields as well as spectator seating, offices, food and beverage service, meetings rooms and a two-lane bridge deck. The project was first proposed in 2005. After drafting an environmental impact report and several public hearings, the Planning Commission approved the project in 5-1 vote in June 2012.

The project's challengers contend that the plan poses a safety threat to soccer players, who will play in fields parallel to the airport's runway. Other concerns include the environmental impacts on the surrounding habitat from developing the land, the alcohol sales at the cafe, and the increased traffic, lights and noise due to the activity at the complex.

The project is located in an area considered to be at low to moderate risk of a plane crash, according to Miranda Thompson, a safety consultant from Mead & Hunt. There is a 3 to 5 percent chance of aircraft accidents in the area where the outdoor fields are located, and an approximately 8 to 22 percent of accidents that could occur where the warm-up field is proposed. To mitigate these concerns, Thompson suggested limiting the amount of people in that area to 50, adding more emergency exits, not to have stationary seating and having fencing.

John Courtney is a senior planner at Lamphier Gregory and worked on the environmental impact report for the project. "We found there were no significant unavoidable impacts for this project," he said. All potential effects on the endangered bird the Clapper Rail, which lives in the surrounding area, can be mitigated.

Despite the reports, many are not convinced that the facility is the best fit for the wetland. "I can't equate loving soccer with loving this facility," said Margaret Johnston, who lives in Terra Linda and has kids who've played at several fields throughout the county. Johnston's main concern is the safety hazard regarding selling alcohol where there are children playing. While many soccer players think this is a way to get a free soccer field "tt's not free. There's a social and an environmental cost," she said.

Carolyn Lenert, representing the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents, said there are no neighborhood associations that support the proposal. Homeowners in North San Rafael oppose the project due to the environmental impacts and the private ownership of the complex. "Let's not privatize recreation for the wealthy who are going to pay," she said. "This is pay to play. This special treatment for some."

Opponents also include the Marin Audubon Society and the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District.

Supporters of the plan believe that the complex will fill a void in local recreational fields. Since cities and schools are not able to build new fields due to budget restrictions, many soccer players have to commute all over the county for games. Many of the existing fields are poorly maintained. "I cannot tell you how many times my children did not play games on the weekend because it rained," Anthony Bouirke said at the meeting. Bouirke is also a pilot and said he would feel very comfortable with his kids playing at the field.

Other supporters include the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, as well as several local soccer leagues.

"You can't be against everything everywhere all the time. There has to be balance," Airport Manager Robert Herbst said. According to Herbst, it is more dangerous to drive around the county to fields than play on the field next to the airport runway, and having more recreation will promote healthy habits and empower youth.

"The project in front of your will be an incredible community asset," he said. "It's the right project in the right location."

See more in-dept points about the project in the live blog above.

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