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It's Neighborhood Church vs. neighbors in Stafford dispute

Plan for sports fields is pending before Clackamas County.

A plan for new sports fields pits the Neighborhood Church Assembly of God against residential neighbors in the Stafford area between Tualatin and West Linn.

The church seeks approval for two full-size fields, a smaller field, parking and accessory buildings on 26 acres it owns at the southwest corner of SW Stafford Road and Interstate 205. The site is adjacent to the church and Stafford Academy, which offers prekindergarten and kindergarten programs.

But neighbors to the south say the development will generate more traffic and create noise, lighting and other problems.

No neighbor testified in favor of it during an Aug. 18 hearing that ran for more than three hours.

“This is a massive-change project that has not included the neighbors at all,” Dr. Jerald Block said.

The church’s application for a conditional-use permit is pending before Fred Wilson, a Salem lawyer serving as a hearings officer for Clackamas County. Wilson must issue a decision by Dec. 2.

The hearing record remains open until Sept. 15.

The church bought a 30-acre site in 1986, and according to the county staff report, the county approved the church, the education building and related offices on part of the site during the 1990s.

A 15-lot subdivision to the south was approved in 1991.

“Before the neighborhood existed, our church was on record for development,” said Paul Owen, the church’s lead pastor.

Eleven months ago, the county approved a conditional-use permit for a three-story multipurpose building to house 11 more classrooms, indoor basketball and soccer, and 105 parking spaces. That building is not yet built.

According to the Stafford Academy website, the private school hopes to expand to grade 8.

According to the pending application for a conditional-use permit, the church lists campouts, concerts and crusades among the anticipated activities on the new development, which would be used from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Although the church is proceeding with the application, Owen said, “We have this historical record that we’ve already been doing it (activities) and already have been approved. There is no (prior) approval on our property that limits our use of the property to a specific part.

“It is a little bit concerning to us now to be asked to justify these activities that are on record and not been opposed. When we are asked to justify those things, we don’t need to justify them, in our opinion.”

But hearings officer Wilson said there is a difference between occasional activity on undeveloped land and organized activity on fully developed sports fields.

The county staff has recommended denial, although it left the way open for resolution of traffic and noise impacts.

A revised traffic study was submitted by the architect, David Bissett, but not in time for a full review by the Clackamas County Engineering Division or the Oregon Department of Transportation before the Aug. 18 hearing.

A noise study has been requested by the county staff.

Although such a study may not be required under the county zoning code, hearing officer Wilson said, “I think a lot of people here are going to testify that if you have a few people playing soccer until 11:30 with the lights on, it’s going to be noisy and disturbing.”

Bissett said he believes the traffic and noise issues can be resolved, as well as parking. The plan proposes 195 new spaces in addition to the 110 already near the church and school.

“This is not an adversarial thing,” he said.

Recreational uses are permitted in the rural residential/farm-forest zone in which the 30-acre site sits.

“But this is a new application that is asking for two new fields,” said Andrew Rice, an opponent.

“I am struggling to understand how, if you have an existing building permitted as a conditional use, you need these other fields for recreational use,” Rice said referring to the as-yet unbuilt multipurpose building.

“I am struggling with how a Mack truck can be driven through a mouse-hole application.”

Another opponent, Rick Wohleber, was among those who said the church would have to rent the fields to generate income.

“The church’s intent is to offer use of the property by a wide variety of organizations,” he said.

In its application for the permit, the church said: “While no formal partnerships are in place, we have communicated with numerous civic-minded organizations in our area and have determined that our efforts would meet a real need in the community for recreational and athletic play space for various leagues, schools, community groups and tournaments in addition to church and school use.”

Wilson said he would have to resolve the issue of land use, but not finances.

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