A neighbor living near a multi-use sports fields project now underway at the former Woodway High School is continuing his legal battle against the project, and will appear in Snohomish County Superior Court July 8 for a preliminary hearing on his appeal to overturn the Edmonds City Council’s land use decision regarding the property.
Mark Wall has asked the court to deny the requested permits for the project located off 100th Avenue West in the Westgate neighborhood. The Edmonds School District confirmed Monday that district attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss Wall’s legal action.
Work has already begun on phase one of the three-phase sports complex, which eventually could include a walking track, resurfaced tennis and basketball courts, four-year-round multi-use turf fields, concessions and bleachers. As part of work that began last week, the natural grass has been torn up to make way for two artificial turf fields made of plastic grass blades and recycled tire crumb rubber. The fields are scheduled to be available for use by local select and recreational sports teams starting this fall.
For several months, project opponents have been urging the school district to delay action on the project — jointly sponsored by the district, the City of Edmonds and the Verdant Health Commission — for several reasons. Many of them are concerned about the safety of the crumb rubber turf, which is made from recycled tires that contain known carcinogens and has been cited anecdotally in recent cancer cases diagnosed among soccer goalies. There have also been issues raised about the environmental impacts of the sports complex. The Pilchuck Audubon Society has said the fields are a nesting area for resident and migratory birds and also noted that the school district — as the lead agency for the project — did not develop a plan for mitigating the runoff of potential contaminants from the crumb rubber into local creeks and eventually, into Puget Sound.
Both the school district and Verdant have said that currently available research indicates that the fields are safe for both athletes and environment.
Wall in particular has criticized the way the project was reviewed and permitted. He was an official “party of record” during the City of Edmonds Hearing Examiner’s March 26 open record hearing on the school district’s request for a conditional use permit for the project, and said he spent hundreds of hours of research into its potential impacts. Hearing Examiner Phil Olbrechts in his April 10 recommendation to the City Council to approve bleachers and and fencing for the project, cited a traffic engineering report prepared by Wall as a reason for denying field lights for the project. Olbrechts noted the lights would lead to extended field use, which in turn “has the potential for generating traffic that is significantly detrimental to public safety and welfare.”
Wall said he has accrued $15,000 so far in legal fees fighting the project. As a result, opponents of the sports field complex have create a GoFundMe account to help reimburse his expenses.
A $2.5 million grant by Verdant is funding the first phase, which would include two sports fields, bleachers and safety fencing. The school district withdrew the request for lights after Olbrechts recommended against approving them, but officials have said the district is likely to reapply for lights at a later date. There is no funding available currently for phases two and three.
In his appeal, Wall said that the project will affect his “use and enjoyment” of his Nottingham Road property due to increased noise, parking and congestion (and lights if they are eventually included), and that activities generated by the fields project will also have “adverse wildlife impacts.” He has also argued that the Edmonds City Council not only erred in approving a conditional use permit for bleachers and fencing but it also erroneously authorized the project to be permitted and reviewed in segments — with separate approvals required for fencing, bleachers and lighting. “Such bifurcation had the effect of preventing a unified review of the project and its impacts; preventing the ADB (city’s Architectural Design Board), examiner, and council from basing their decisions on full information and facts consistent with applicable law,” the appeal said.
In a letter sent earlier this month to the attorneys for both the school district and the city, Wall’s attorney Scott Missall warned that if Wall prevails in court, “the District and the City will likely be required to remove the fields and take such other action as the Court deems necessary to restore the status quo.”
“The District and the City are thus acting at their substantial risk in proceeding with the field conversion at this time,” Missall said.