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Airport Sports Complex Operator: Lawsuit Has a 'Snowball's Chance in Hell'

Recreation facility and soccer fields approved by the San Rafael City Council in December 2012 are drawing fire from an environmental group, but developer is unbowed.

A local environmental group has filed a lawsuit in Marin Superior Court in an attempt to stop the sports complex and soccer fields near the San Rafael Airport that were approved by the San Rafael City Council in December 2012.

But while the people behind 85,700-square-feet recreation complex said they were disappointed by the latest effort to halt the project (lawsuit attached at right), they were vehemently undeterred, saying the lawsuit stood no chance of winning in court given the lengthy environmental review through which the project had gone since its proposal in 2005.

“This thing is going to get this built,” said Andrew Rowley, the would-be operator of the sports complex at the airport and the president of Santa Rosa-based soccer company Sports City. “Often these groups go into this process to drag it on for so long that they bleed you to death. But that’s not going to happen here. They have an attitude to stop it at all costs, but I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

The lawsuit, filed by longtime project opponent the Gallinas Creek Defense Council against the city of San Rafael and project applicant, San Rafael Airport, LLC. In it, the group claims the project, and the City Council's review and approval of it, had "gaping holes" and violated state environmental law by failing to sufficiently analyze impacts on the California Clapper Rail bird, safety impacts due to the project's proximity to the airport and visual and noise impacts on nearby residents.

The complaint also claims the project conflicts with the San Rafael General Plan and the property's zoning designation.

The project, which has been in the planning process for around eight years, was presented at the Dec. 3 council meeting where public comment stretched over six hours. All council members expect Damon Connolly, who dissented, approved of the project.

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. It will also include a lighted outdoor turf field and another outdoor turf field on a 9.1-acre site near Gallinas Creek, the airport and McInnis Park.

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 at the time.

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.

Neither the Gallinas Creek Defense Council nor its legal firm, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, responded to messages from Patch.

Bob Herbst, the manager of the airport, said he was confident that the lawsuit would be unsuccessful.

"They want to impose the judgment of a judge over the will of the city after an eight-year review process," Herbst said. 

Rowley was even more vehement, calling the members of the Gallinas Creek Defense Council “cry babies” and saying “they’re acting like spoiled children” who are “simply driving up the cost of the use of the facilities for Marin families” by imposing more delay. The complex, which Rowley said does not yet have a name, would cater to youth and adult soccer, with youth sports making up about 65 percent of the games there.

“They have lost on the merits,” he said of the projects opponents. “All of the issues have been vetted. It’s got overwhelming community support. At this point, they should just accept it.”

What do you think of this lawsuit (attached at right)? Does it have merit? Tell us in the Comments below.

Sandra Florin February 12, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Conroy and all you others suggesting that everybody else is misinformed, take a look at the Novato Hamilton proposal before saying it isn't for soccer and won't compete with the proposed airport facility. The proposal calls for four lit outdoor soccer fields and a 120,000 square foot building big enough for four indoor soccer fields. The investors behind that development would be foolish to cater only to baseball!. And Conroy, I am sure you will be pleased to know that Ken Shapiro of San Rafael Pacifics fame is one of the investors at Hamilton. http://novato.patch.com/articles/sports-complex-at-hamilton-draws-early-opposition#photo-11879351
Sandra Florin February 12, 2013 at 05:53 PM
http://novato.patch.com/articles/sports-complex-at-hamilton-draws-early-opposition#photo-11879351
Steve B February 14, 2013 at 09:15 PM
John, this is the Patch, not the WSJ... Plus, saying things like "Richmond's rejects" is simply a matter of being concise and to the point. It is easier than writing "socio-economically challenged, uneducated, entitled, welfare-collecting, criminal, disrespectful, fifth-generation bastard, trashy, low-class-perpetuating breeders" Go cruise the Canal if you are confused about what this means. Still confused? Walk the Canal at night.
Craig Belfor February 14, 2013 at 10:09 PM
I remember the original Raydines on the Miracle Mile. It was a great place to go for birthdays, or any other reason.
Ken Conroy February 15, 2013 at 03:09 AM
Craig - good memory. In fact Ray & Nadine actually had his first rink in Mill Valley prior to Miracle Mile. It is too bad we don't have a rink in Marin but the economics of running an ice rink are tough to be viable unless they are somehow subsidised.

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