A Columbia youth soccer organization may receive approval tonight to develop a regional soccer complex, including a lighted stadium, that it has sought for about a decade.
Soccer Association of Columbia officials, parents and players say that the seven-field soccer complex on Howard Community College's campus would benefit nearly 4,000 youths and would reinforce the county's reputation as a hotbed for soccer.
The community college's board of trustees will sponsor a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today at the campus' Smith Theatre on the association's proposal to convert several of the college's athletic fields near Hickory Ridge Road into the soccer complex.
After the hearing, the board anticipates deciding on the proposal during a 7:30 p.m. meeting at the board's conference room in the college's Administration Building.
The soccer association, which plays fall and spring league games on fields scattered across the county, has worked throughout the summer to make converts out of critics who feared the project would disrupt their community.
During an initial hearing in June, residents of Hickory Hollow, a 260-townhouse development off Hickory Ridge Road, expressed concern that the soccer complex could cause traffic congestion, parking problems, litter and disturbances from lighting and noise.
They also said that they hadn't been adequately informed about the proposal.
But since then, the soccer association has worked to address many concerns of residents, say Hickory Hollow and Hickory Ridge village officials.
"My personal opinion as a homeowner is that SAC [the soccer association] has made every effort to be responsive and has made a number of changes," said Roger Barnes, a resident of Hickory Hollow who has worked with soccer association officials. "The community has begun to alter its view. It's in the process of becoming more receptive to the project."
Hickory Ridge village board member Miles Coffman agreed that the soccer association has tried to resolve potential problems from the soccer complex.
He said the soccer association has allayed some concerns with plans to channel traffic and parking away from Hickory Ridge Road on game days and to minimize effects of the fields' lighting.
"If they follow through on what they agreed to do, it should be OK," Mr. Coffman said.
The soccer association also redesigned the seating in the planned complex's 3,000-seat stadium to direct noise away from nearby residences, said Michael Curry, the soccer association's publicity coordinator.
The proposed complex would cost an estimated $700,000 to $900,000 to construct and may include more than one field with lights, Mr. Curry said.
The soccer association has raised enough money to pay all construction and maintenance costs, he said, but it has been discussing several financing and leasing alternatives with the college.
"The more commitment we're going to make, the more commitment we want as far as usage and length [of contract]," Mr. Curry said.
Ronald H. Carlson, chairman of the college's board of trustees, said the college would welcome the upgrading of its athletic fields, but added the board needs to evaluate costs to the institution, financial and otherwise, before making a decision.
"Whatever is done, it should be so the taxpaying public doesn't bear any costs," he said.