Northwest NEWS

February 18, 2002

Local News

Ball still in air over soccer infringement on farmland

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   State Rep. Toby Nixon's bill to let farmland be used for playing fields died in committee last week.
   "Unfortunately, Hans Dunshee, chair of the House committee on Local Government and Housing, refused to give (it) a hearing," said Rep. Nixon (R - 45th District). "So it's effectively dead for this year. I will re-introduce it next year, if I have the opportunity."
   According to Nixon, the bill was designed to allow (not require, allow, he said) local governments to permit active recreational activities such as soccer, field hockey and softball to be played on land zoned for agricultural use. However, the land would have to be planted with grass only, and no permanent structures could be erected so that the land could readily be returned to agricultural use if it made economic sense to do so, or in the event of an emergency, said Nixon.
   For several years now, soccer enthusiasts and farm preservationists have disputed how land in the Sammamish Valley should be zoned.
   About seven years ago, the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association purchased a block of land near Northeast 124th Street and Willows Road, the Muller Farm, 37 acres of which fell within the city of Redmond boundaries. This land had an agricultural designation at the time the association purchased it, but the group was hopeful its land-use designation could be changed to accommodate soccer fields. When the city tried to change it, however, farm preservationists challenged the rezone - and won.
   Now even though the soccer association owns its 37-acre parcel of land within city limits, along with an adjoining 75 acres of farmland just outside Redmond boundaries (the Muller Farm in toto), King County, through its taxpayers, bought the development rights for much of the Sammamish River Valley property, including the Muller Farm.
   This transferal of development rights changed the land's deed to prohibit nonagricultural uses.
   Up until now, the courts have upheld that agricultural-use designation.
   But the soccer association says it needs more room to play and practice. It would like to use the 112 acres it already owns.
   So the group pinned its hopes on Rep. Nixon's bill, which, as stated previously, died in committee.
   "If we're not using the land to raise crops, we should be able to use it to raise children," said Nixon.
   Anti-sprawl advocates beg to differ. Anti-sprawl group 1000 Friends of Washington notes in its literature, "High quality agricultural land is rare. ... Redmond used to have hundreds of acres zoned (for) agriculture in the 1990s but now is down to its last 72 acres. We need to protect the little agricultural land that remains."