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Sports leaders call for playing fields, not houses on former golf course

By From page A1 | June 12, 2013

Two years into Parker Development’s careful unveiling of the Marble Valley and Central El Dorado Hills Specific Plans, the grass-roots opposition they might have expected early on has finally arrived.

The Serrano developer now face problems on the home front, where youth sports leaders say the community needs playing fields, not houses on the former El Dorado Hills Executive Golf Course.

The El Dorado Hills Community Services District is also being called out for failing to keep pace with increased participation in youth sports, forcing many families to drive to Folsom or Rancho Cordova to practice/compete in competitive sports leagues.

CSD Board President Billy Vandegrift sparked the debate on his home turf, calling a public meeting on June 3 to explore alternate recreation uses for the high-visibility former golf course, which would become a westward expansion of Serrano under the proposed Central El Dorado Hills Specific Plan.

More than 100 residents responded, filling the CSD Pavilion to capacity. They heard a dozen youth sports leaders report that participation levels and year-round play have spiked over the last three years, increasing competition among recreational teams for playing fields and forcing some competitive leagues out of El Dorado Hills.

They beseeched the CSD board for more facilities, the loudest requests coming from soccer, lacrosse, Little League and aquatics leaders.

The three freeway-adjacent lighted sports fields in Parker Development’s plan weren’t mentioned, nor was the footbridge over the freeway, the network of hiking and biking trails or the economic stimulus to Town Center, Raley’s Center and especially the struggling La Borgata center, all within walking distance.

The golf course would be the heart of a proposed three-way density swap that would convert 135 custom lots on Oak Ridge to open space. High concentrations of naturally occurring asbestos were discovered on the ridge several years after the high-value lots were approved, sparking concern by Serrano residents that ridge development would stir up dangerous dust.

Those units and others, 763 in total, would be built on the former golf course. The plan calls for a mix of free-standing homes comparable to those in lower Serrano, plus less expensive townhomes, condominiums and luxury apartments designed to appeal to “an aging population and changing demographics,” according to the project website.

Serrano spokesman Kirk Bone defended the plan, pointing out that the 15-acre active sports park plus several smaller parks in combination with 11 acres north of the fire station currently available if anyone from the CSD would ask, all add up to twice the requirement for developer contributions for parks.

Developers also pay a park fee, roughly $9,800 for each single-family home built in the district. Bone indicated a willingness to prefund enough park fees to get playing fields on the ground sooner rather than later, with the caveat “Traffic fees drive the amenity discussion in El Dorado County.”

Many of the speakers Monday night were critical of Parker Development and worried that the extra homes would worsen traffic.

Several called for passive recreation uses on the golf course site, including open space and trees.

But most came to lobby for active sports amenities. Some speakers called for tournament-class athletic facilities on the site, but few acknowledged the cost.

Notable exception Steve Ferry recalled the county’s plans for a regional park which included several athletic fields near Bass Lake. He called for a renewal of that commitment.

Norm Rowett encouraged the board to be open to creative solutions. “Sometimes a triggering event comes along and you have to make a decision,” he said. He would know. Rowett was on was on the visionary late 1980s CSD board that built the Community Park.

Respected youth sports leader Scott Spriggs took the CSD board to task for failing to recognize that so many sports were booming, and challenged them to be more active.

“This community would embrace a plan for excellence and support it financially, but you have to provide the leadership,” he said.

The El Dorado Hills Soccer Club is the largest sports organization in El Dorado Hills, 2,000 kids strong, according to club president Chris Hunt, who predicted another 500 to 1,000 kids would be playing within two years.

When the days get short his teams cut practice short or skip it all together, while teams in other areas practice under lights, he said.

He was particularly frustrated by Serrano parks that have enough space to practice but are not set up to handle soccer.

Little League Field Director Bud Carroll finds places for 700 kids to play baseball. He regretted that competition for fields makes unsupervised “sand lot” play impossible.

Taz swim team President Brent Jones reported a 45 percent increase in sign ups over the last three years. He only had room for 430 of the 510 who signed up this year, which left some very angry parents, he said.

“Aquatics is huge part of the community,” he said. “Building any more homes without another pool doesn’t seem right.”

The presidents of two competitive lacrosse clubs, Debbie Shaeffer and Jim Meanie, told the board how they used to practice and play locally, but no more. Shaeffer’s American River Girls Lacrosse pays $20,000 annually to play in Folsom and Rancho Cordova, she said. Meanie said his American River Lacrosse is four times the size and in a similar situation.

Tennis advocate Susan Vomund said five tennis courts would support league and tournament play, but more would be better.

Green Valley Alliance representative Bill Welty was concerned about the air quality at any recreational facility on the golf course site. Ozone accumulates to unhealthy levels in the bowl between the two ridges on summer afternoons and evenings, he said.

He encouraged the CSD board to request air quality monitoring on the site now, as a baseline for future studies.

Ridgeview resident Jason Krause reminded the audience that El Dorado Hills is not a city. “We’ve got 42,000 people here with no law enforcement,” he said. “The more homes you build the more crime you will have.”

Lacrosse Coach Bob Davis created the El Dorado Hills Sports Alliance website as a repository for contacts, articles, ideas and a petition for sports fields on the golf course site. He encouraged everyone concerned to sign the petition.

Director Wayne Lowery acknowledged the increase in youth sports participation at all levels. “This community’s needs have changed,” he said. “It’s time to revisit the master plan.”

He called out Serrano, with a single park that provides playing fields, for failing to provide parks suitable for organized youth sports.

Bone countered, “The lack of active recreation fields is not our fault. We follow the rules.

“We understand that people don’t want to be worse off than they were before we developed the project, and they won’t be,” he continued. “We’ve been doing this for more than 50 years around here.”

Bone later e-mailed a prepared statement that outlined Parker Development’s recreational contributions in Greenhaven, Riverlake, The Parkway and Serrano. “The public amenities associated with those communities have benefited the new community and the existing neighborhoods. Our current proposed communities will follow that history.”

The Mello Roos-funded Village J Park, long-planned as a joint use facility with Rescue Union School District, is slated for two soccer fields. But declining district enrollment and tight budgets have left the district in no hurry to build a new school and considering alternate locations north of Bass Lake.

“This is our chance to get a Golden Gate Park here in El Dorado Hills,” said Lowery. “And it’s going to cost money.”

A tournament-class recreation facility would be a windfall to El Dorado Hill, said Director Tony Rogozinski. “We need to talk about bond funding.”

In the end the board agreed to work with community groups to explore using the former golf course as a community or regional park and draft a letter to the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors asking them to retain open space and recreational zoning on the parcel.

District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco reminded the residents that the golf course remains Parker’s property, saying, “We can’t force him to do anything.”

He recounted his own experience playing soccer and baseball as a kid in Cupertino. “Children are our future,” he said. “Playing sports teach kids sportsmanship and competitiveness, and make them better people. This is an investment in the future of our community.”

In the short term, the CSD has soccer and baseball fields coming online at the Valley View School site, and tiny Windsor Point Park will provide a turf area for young kids’ soccer.

Interim General Manager Rich Ramirez’ SWOT analysis of the district’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats suggested, among other things, “Commence a civic engagement process to consider creating two new regional parks in West El Dorado County … A high impact complex with a full service community center … playing fields and dedicated practice fields. The other a low-impact park for hiking, fishing, and wildlife observation.”

He was referring to land around Bass Lake currently owned by the El Dorado Irrigation District.

The Bass Lake Regional Park died after the Bass Lake Action Committee had serious traffic concerns and opposed any lights in the area. Any potential partner in an active sports project would likely want to leverage their investment by illuminating the fields.

Mike Roberts


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