HCC soccer-complex plan stirs advocates, and foes

June 15, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

A soccer complex at Howard Community College would benefit the institution, the community and the nearly 4,000 children who play in leagues in Columbia, a nationally recognized soccer hotbed, said advocates of the proposal at a hearing last night.

"We've needed something like this for a long time," said Columbia resident James McKinney, whose son participated in the Soccer Association of Columbia, which proposed the joint venture with the college. "With the [World Cup international soccer championship] being here, it's a great opportunity to bring this off."

But several residents from the Hickory Hollow Community Association near the proposed site expressed concern before HCC's board of trustees that developing more soccer fields adjacent to Hickory Ridge Road could exacerbate traffic and parking problems and create more noise and litter.

"We feel it's inappropriate at this time, so close to a residential community that's suffering" from the effects of growth, Roger Barnes told the audience of about 65 at the college's Smith Theatre.

The community "already sacrifices a great deal more than any other" because of its proximity to Merriweather Post Pavilion and the college, which has weekend and evening events, he said.

The 23-year-old soccer association and the college are considering a partnership to renovate athletic fields -- three soccer fields and several softball diamonds -- to create about seven premier soccer fields. Under the proposal, the soccer association would pay for development and maintenance.

"I've lived in seven states, and I can personally testify to the fact that the Soccer Association of Columbia is a superior organization," said Linda Timmins, an Ellicott City resident whose sons played in the league. The venture would enhance the soccer program and create opportunities for the county's youth, she said.

Residents from Hickory Hollow, a development of 260 townhouses off Hickory Ridge Road, requested more details, such as when fields would be used and whether plans include lighting.

They also recommended scheduling another hearing, saying many residents still are unaware of the proposal.

Daniel R. Risch, vice president of the community association, said the group hasn't taken a position on the proposal, but wants to be involved in the planning process.

Ronald H. Carlson, chairman of the college's board of trustees, said another hearing is likely. "These are very important issues," he said. "We're going to make sure the community knows what's going on and what the implications are before we make any decision."

The soccer association, which plays games on fields scattered across the county, has been searching for a site for a complex for several years, without success, say soccer association officials. The organization, which has teams for males and females ages 5 to 19 years, currently uses the three HCC soccer fields.

Robert Landolt, chairman of the association's Soccer Complex Committee, told concerned residents that the organization prides itself on being "good neighbors" and that it would work with the community. The proposed project is "not a revolutionary expansion" and would have minimal impact, he said.

But Hickory Hollow resident Richard Kahn expressed concern that establishing a complex could increase demand for more events, night games and concession stands. "These pressures would continue to adversely impact our lives," he said.

Several soccer association officials cited the annual Memorial Day weekend tournament that draws teams from across the nation to Columbia and the number of national-caliber players the organization produces as testimony to the need for a complex.

Richard Buehler, 17, who plays on Atholton High School's soccer team, said quality fields are important to developing players.

"When you're 6 years old, you just want to get out and play," he said. "But when you get to be 17 and you see the condition some of the fields are in and the size they are, you don't know what to do around here."

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