Bursting at the seams with popularity, the Mill Valley Soccer Club got the go-ahead from the Mill Valley City Council Monday night to play games on the Bayfront South Passive Area, despite opposition from neighbors.
The club and the Parks and Recreation Commission brought a number of recommendations to the council to amend the Bayfront Park Master Plan, which governs the use of all of Bayfront and Hauke parks. The club rescinded its earlier request to use the fields on Sundays, and the council rejected the club's request to remove restrictions on the numbers of teams that could use the fields at one time. Instead, it deferred a decision about capping the "intensity of use," or total number of players and/or teams on the fields at one time, back to the commission.
"We're very happy with the approval of the recommendations with the qualifier of going back and setting some form of limits," said Mill Valley Soccer Club President Jon Bontz. "We're fine with it as long as we have input with what those limits are."
The use of Bayfront and Hauke dates back to 1978, when the council adopted the master plan and, coincidentally, the same year the soccer club was founded. The plan was amended as recently as 2004 to strike a balance between neighborhood concerns over traffic and parking and the club's growth.
Much of the night's debate centered on the confusion about existing caps on the number of teams and the age-based criteria for those caps. The 2004 amendment limited the number of teams that can play simultaneously to two if the players are over 10 years old, three teams if the players are under 10 years old and four if the players are under 8 years old.
Dick Swanson, a resident of Kipling Drive and Mill Valley's mayor at the time the master plan was amended, said the fields needed some sort of "intensity of use" cap to give the neighborhood some assurance that use of the fields would not balloon.
In a 3-0 vote, with Vice Mayor Ken Wachtel and Councilman Andrew Berman absent, the council agreed that a cap was needed but deferred the minutiae of specific limits back to the parks commission.
Neighbors of the parks came out in force, with nearly a dozen local residents speaking out against any changes to the plan. Steve Jaber, also resident of Kipling Drive and a member of the committee that amended the master plan in 2004, said the committee specifically set aside the passive area for use by non-organized sports.
"It was clear to us back then that demand exceeded by supply," he said. "If we granted all requests, there would be no free space left. We balanced the needs of teams and other park users and the neighbors. With these requests, we're a little worried that this could lead to a piecemeal altering of the master plan."
The council sought to strike a balance between the two sides.
"The history of the passive area makes sense," said Councilwoman Shawn Marshall, who pointed to the 2004 establishment of Bayfront Meadow as open space as a concession to neighbors. "But it just hasn't evolved to be used the way that it was originally envisioned. I'm in favor of allowing games there."
Bontz emphasized the soccer club's flexibility over the years as its growth has spiked to more than 1,500 players and 150 teams between the ages of 5 and 17 in 2009 and 2010. In addition to using the six fields governed by the Mill Valley Parks and Recreation Department, the club also uses Tam High and Ring Mountain Day School fields as well as fields in Corte Madera and Tiburon.
"It's disappointing that so often the soccer club's success is regarded as an intentional pursuit of growth," Bontz said. "We are accommodating the growth of the community and its interest in soccer. We are not recruiting or marketing to expand our membership for profit. We have always been a nonprofit. The neighborhood's perception of us is unfortunate."
Director of Parks and Recreation Christine Sansom said the commission will take up the cap issue at its Sept. 8 meeting.