Novato receives application for controversial sports complex at Hamilton

Monday, Mar 23, 2015

The city of Novato has received a planning application for the Hamilton Field Sports Park, a 55-acre sports complex with a 12-acre community park, four baseball fields and a 1,000-seat ballpark for high school and collegiate sports located in the Hamilton neighborhood.

The Marin Sports Academy LLC of Kentfield filed the application for the sports complex at Hamilton Parkway behind the city’s skate park on Friday, about three years after news of the project first surfaced to strong community reaction.

Developers include Charles Scott, a Hamilton resident, former minor-league baseball player, talent scout and longtime Marin coach, and Mike Shapiro, a Corte Madera resident and former vice president for the San Francisco Giants.

“This is a public-private partnership. We are going to provide parks to the public without it costing the community anything. We are covering all the cost by making money in operations, and to me, that’s a win-win for everybody,” Shapiro said.

When the news of the proposed complex broke in 2012, it unleashed a firestorm of resistance from residents of the former air base.

In response to their concerns, the developers dropped the acreage from 78 to 55 acres, cut the number of sports fields, eliminated plans for a hotel and proposed lighting for only the ballpark field located at the property’s farthest northeastern corner.

The accommodations aren’t enough for Hamilton resident Elvira Berson, who went on the record against the project in 2012 and continues to oppose it.

Ticking off her concerns, Berson said, “The stadium is very close to where people live. There will be a lot of shouting.”

In response, Shapiro said: “First of all, the ballpark is intended primarily for high schools and maybe junior colleges and kids in the community. And while it’s going to be a baseball field and I assume people are going to be cheering, it’s located in the far northeastern end of the property, away from the residential area.”

Shapiro said the 1,000-seat stadium is the equivalent of a high school ballpark.

Another concern of Berson’s: “There are going to be thousands of cars, huge games with lots of publicity. There will be thousands of people coming.”

According to Shapiro: “These kinds of projects with athletic facilities and recreational park facilities do not involve heavy surges of people at one time. They are spread out over the course of a day depending on when the kids have games.”

When many people think of athletic events, their frame of reference is single events drawing tens of thousands, like Giants games. Ballparks like this one have games scheduled for different times throughout the course of the day, according to Charles Scott, chief executive officer of Marin Sports Academy.

“This is a commercial for-profit enterprise. That’s what this is about, and that’s the main interest the people have vested in it,” Berson said.

Shapiro said, “This is a public-private partnership and a way to create additional parks, recreational and sports facilities for the community without any cost for land, for construction, repairs and maintenance.”

Berson expressed concerns that the sports complex will attract people from out of town. Shapiro said this would bring new business to the community, encouraging people to stay in Novato hotels, eat in Novato restaurants and fill up at gas stations.

“It’s a catalyst for economic development. I don’t know what community wouldn’t want to have newfound business coming in,” he said.

Berson said, “When they have these big games, there will be so many cars it will be like NASCAR. It will be clobbered by traffic on Highway 101 when we have these games.”

Shapiro likened these objections to those raised when the San Rafael Pacifics, which he co-owns, came to town. Neighbors predicted drunken fans disturbing the peace and disrupting traffic. Shapiro said the predictions have not come true.

With regard to traffic, “There has been no traffic impact in San Rafael for Pacifics games,” Shapiro said. The Pacifics stadium in about the same size as the one proposed for Hamilton, he said.

The Pacifics were named San Rafael’s Large Business of the Year last week by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

The application for the development plan is only the first step in a long-drawn-out public review process that could take as long as two years. A series of public meetings will take place, including a review by the city’s Recreation, Cultural and Community Services Advisory Commission, the Design Review Commission, the Planning Commission and, finally, the City Council.

An Environmental Impact Report will be prepared to evaluate potential traffic, parking, noise, lighting, biological and geotechnical effects of the project.

A meeting with the Hamilton community is planned for April 29, although the details are pending.

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