Board OKs soccer project

10-field complex would have shelters, parking for 600 cars

Residents' concerns linger

January 09, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Soccer enthusiasts can build their field of dreams, a Howard County board decided last night, approving plans for the largest privately owned soccer complex in Maryland.

The Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County plans to construct 10 fields, parking for 600 cars, an administrative building and two shelters on its 52-acre site in Ellicott City, across from Centennial Park.

Leaders of the 6,000-player group savored their victory quietly -- no hoots or hollers -- but were pleased at clearing one of the biggest hurdles in their years-long attempt to build their own place for competitions.

"It's great. This is exactly what we're looking for," said Jim Carlan, the group's chief operating officer, who said he is looking forward to having control over field quality.

"Right now, we're operating on 30 fields on a part-time basis. Ninety percent of the fields are either poorly maintained or not maintained at all. It definitely has an impact on the game," he said.

The project has met with mixed reviews from the area where the complex will be built.

Some who fought earlier plans for townhouses on the land consider soccer the least of possible evils, but some nearby residents worry especially about the impact of hundreds of additional cars passing by.

"Centennial Lane is just a small road," said Don Pratt, who has lived near it for 20 years. "It's just not the right location for the park."

With one member absent, four of the five members of the Howard County Board of Appeals, concerned about traffic safety, deadlocked on the plan last month during a straw vote. Last night, the panel approved the soccer complex 4-1, with Chairman Robert C. Sharps switching sides.

The initial sticking point was how well drivers would be able to turn into and out of the site, which connects to Centennial Lane. County officials have not proposed a traffic signal there, although residents have lobbied them to move the entrance north to the Maxine Street intersection and install a light.

Sharps said last night that he pored over transcripts from the several months of testimony and was satisfied by what he saw from the soccer association. The group will have to meet more stringent standards when county engineers review the access point, he said.

"No one here doesn't agree that we need a soccer field," Sharps said. "I think we need several of them."

Board member Jacqueline Scott, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said she supported the soccer association's aims but could not in good conscience approve the plans. At the meeting last month, she expressed concerns about access.

"I don't believe the sight distance is adequate and safe," she said.

Board Vice Chairman Pat Patterson said the soccer group met all criteria for a "conditional use," the zoning approval it needed. He said he does not foresee problems.

"Traffic flow is going to be less than a normal workday," said board member James W. Pfefferkorn.

Some neighbors doubt the organization's ability to keep traffic flowing smoothly. They've seen problems when soccer matches are held at Centennial Park. Pratt said he has watched drivers park on the side of the road, next to "No Parking" signs, when the lots overflow.

"The traffic concerns aren't going to go away," David Kinsley, an Ellicott City resident who presented the opponents' case, said after the vote. "It's unfortunate that the county can't work out a traffic signal in connection with this at Maxine Drive."

Carlan said his group does not intend to create a logjam on Centennial Lane because it wants to be a good neighbor and stay on good terms with its players, who would not appreciate traffic snags either.

He said his group would begin by using some of the fields to test traffic patterns and work out problems. Police cadets would direct traffic at the Centennial Lane entrance.

"You're talking about bursts; you're not talking about a steady stream of traffic," Carlan said.

The fields would be used for summer clinics and for competitions in the spring and fall on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, Carlan said. Four of the fields will have lights.

The group wants to open the complex next year in time for its Memorial Day competition, the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament. That's the soccer association's big day, with 240 teams from across the country attending.

Carlan said he is glad that, starting next year, players can expect to play on pristine fields instead of balding ones.

"It makes the game better," he said.

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