In a 3-1 vote, the City Council approved the San Rafael Airport's controversial proposal to build an 85,700-square-feet recreation complex in their Monday night meeting.
The plan, which has been in the planning process for around seven years, was presented at the Dec. 3 meeting where public comment stretched over six hours. In Monday's meeting, city staff addressed all questions raised during the public comment, and the council approved the plan, including all environmental reports, with Damon Connolly dissenting.
The 39-foot-tall recreation complex 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 faced stiff opposition from Santa Venetia neighbors, who worried about noise and lights from night games, environmental impacts on the surrounding habitat and safety of soccer fields in close proximity to the airport's runway.
Council members deliberated for three hours before making their decision. "To me, the benefits outweigh the concerns," Mayor Gary Phillips said.
Supporters of the plan believe that the complex will fill a need for 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.
San Rafael has two fields at Pickleweed Park and two in the unincorporated area at McInnis Park, according to Community Services Director Carlene McCart. The two at Pickleweed can be out of use for as many as eight months, due to the need to repair and maintain the grass.
“There’s just too many feet using the fields," she said.
San Rafael has no indoor or all-weather soccer fields, and renovation for existing ones can cost anywhere between $30,000 to $80,000, according to McCart.
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.
During the council's discussion, Connolly raised concerns about the intensity of the project's construction on land originally intended to remain as open space. The airport property is located along the levee of Gallinas Creek and a marsh borders the eastern land. "I wonder if at the end of the day the project as proposed is bending if not breaking the intent of that limitation," he said.
Connolly was in favor of approving the plan with the condition that the remaining acres be made a conversation easement, but other councilmembers shot the idea down due to fears of being sued.
The plan was approved with earlier operating hours. The additional 60 feet suggested by the Planning Commission to keep an outdoor warm-up soccer field farther from airport's runway was also eliminated.
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