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Neighbors concerned over scope of county sports complex

As the county plans to build a sports facility on the Wellington Hills Golf Course site, some residents worry that too many visitors will overwhelm the neighborhood.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
MALTBY -- Snohomish County's rapidly advancing plan to transform the Wellington Hills Golf Course and surrounding areas into a large regional sports complex has some neighbors worried.
They believe the more than $20 million project will overwhelm their low-density residential neighborhood with light, noise and throngs of visitors.
Others are excited by the prospect of top-class sports facilities. Initial plans call for fields for soccer and softball, baseball and lacrosse. County staff also envision walking trails, playgrounds, an indoor arena and a mountain bike park nestled into the hilly terrain.
The golf course, however, is scheduled to close in the fall.
The park has been the subject of several neighborhood meetings where emotions have run high. A discussion last week drew about 90 people, supporters and critics alike.
"We want them to slow it down and to hear what we want," neighbor Todd Bailey said. "We're not against anything the county wants to do here. We just think the location is wrong."
The county bought the 100-acre property from the University of Washington earlier this year after receiving unanimous support from the County Council. The land sits southeast of the junction of Highways 9 and 522.
The price was $10 million with another $13 million available for building out the park. That includes $884,000 for a consultant hired to draft formal plans, plus money for permits, engineering and improvements to 240th Street SE, which runs through the property.
At recent meetings, the county has shown three different concepts for what might actually be built. They generally include the same types of things: grass and synthetic-turf sports fields, paved trails and a 50,000-square-foot indoor arena. An outside group also has been in talks with the county about building and running a mountain bike park on the north end of the property.
The athletic fields would be multi-use, meaning they could be reconfigured for different sports.
"It does have sports fields, quite a few of them, which gives us an opportunity to have tournaments in that part of Snohomish County," said Tammy Dunn from the sports marketing division of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. "This is a great opportunity for field sports -- baseball, soccer, lacrosse -- but also for cyclocross and trail running."
Dunn added that, "We know that not everything will fit."
Dunn sits on an ad hoc committee assembled to advise the county on the project. She said she and other committee members, who include neighbors, realize that Wellington Hills would be, "a community park, not just a sports complex."
By the end of this month, the county hopes to settle on a preferred plan.
After that, the county wants to move to obtain permits and put the project to bid. If all goes smoothly, construction could take place in 2013 and wrap up by the end of that year.
County parks director Tom Teigen said Wellington Hills is "by far" the biggest ongoing parks project in Snohomish County. The size of the property means about half of it, including wooded sections, would remain largely untouched, he said.
"We believe it's an excellent site for this kind of community park," Teigen said.
The planning process will work on ways to address noise, traffic and light. In Teigen's experience, those are the three big issues neighbors of any future park tend to bring up.
The money for buying and developing Wellington Hills comes from a $70 million settlement Snohomish County reached with King County in 2005 over the nearby Brightwater sewage treatment plant.
About $30 million of the settlement was set aside for recreation and parks, including the county's unfinished Tambark Creek and Miner's Corner parks. Other portions paid for public safety ($25.9 million) and habitat improvements ($10.8 million), as well as a community center ($3 million).
The Wellington Hills purchase fulfills a requirement to buy a Maltby-area park within four miles of the Brightwater plant. Brightwater is immediately northeast of the crux of Highways 9 and 522. The agreement between the counties states the park must be at least 40 acres with "primarily active recreation facilities for the broad community surrounding the treatment plant site."
While the agreement doesn't specify anything about ballfields, Teigen said they were discussed at several community meetings before the Brightwater agreement was approved.
Teigen said he's been frank with people who don't want ballfields and lights.
"That's not an option for us at parks because that was one of the promises that were made in 2005," he said.
Bailey agrees that sports fields were a good idea -- before the county decided to build them at Wellington Hills. The proposed project, he said, promises to make their lives worse, not better.
"We see this park as not an improvement to help mitigate anything, but potentially something that would have more impact than Brightwater would have on us," Bailey said.
For now, Bailey said he and others want to pin down what the county has in mind on specific issues, such as the number of parking stalls and fields, as well as where they would be located.
In the wider community, many will miss a golf course that first opened on the property in 1933.
The county decided it would be impractical to keep the nine-hole course open, Teigen said, because of maintenance expenses and lack of space to build all the ballfields the county wants.
A note on the Wellington Hills Golf Course website says, "So, after 79 years as a facility that enhances the community and benefits neighbors who live or work near the golf course, Wellington Hills golf course will be no more. September 30th we will close for good."

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465;

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