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Tollgate revamp plan nears approval

NORTH BEND - The Valley needs more ball fields.

That was the overriding sentiment at a public hearing held at the North Bend City Council meeting April 6 regarding the proposed revamp plan of the central meadow of Tollgate Farm.

Although the meeting was the first time council members heard public testimony regarding the project, city staff, committee members and consultants from Seattle-based EDAW have been working on the plan for about eight months. In that time, public input has been collected through meetings and surveys.

The 52-acre central meadow of the historic Tollgate Farm was purchased by the city and King County in 2001 - the city owns nine acres outright with the remaining meadow property purchased as a joint effort with the county - for the purpose of preserving the area. The entire Tollgate Farm is 390 acres.

The proposed plan would include:

* A mixed-use sports field area (containing two soccer and three baseball fields, with two baseball backstops) in the northwest portion of the meadow.

* A parking lot located adjacent to the sports fields on the west side.

* Leaving the central pasture portion of the property untouched.

* A trail connecting the east and west ends of the property that will traverse a path to the south of the property. It will not bisect the pasture portion of the meadow.

* A restored farmhouse on the east side of the property.

* Leaving the southeast portion of the property untouched except for the removal of blackberry bushes.

The estimated cost for the total project is $2.09 million. That figure does not include restoration of the farmhouse, which is expected to come from grants and other resources.

The largest contingent at the meeting came from the Snoqualmie Valley Little League.

"We desperately need more ball fields out here," said John Day, the league's vice president.

The league currently hosts 60 teams, which play 600 total games in 90 days on eight fields, Day said. Three of those fields used by the league are located at Snoqualmie's Centennial Fields. As that city grows, Day said, it could eventually found its own Little League, leaving the North Bend community with even fewer fields.

Eric Jensen, who heads fund raising for the league, said the issue of Tollgate has one overriding factor that people should remember.

"It's for the children, that's what we need to remember here," Jensen said.

He added that the fields should have three backstops, not just the two proposed, as they are necessary and not as intrusive to the surrounding views as the plan's designers might have thought.

Jack Webber, a former North Bend City Council member who now lives in Snoqualmie, said with the historic aspect of the property - it was initially used by the first inhabitants of the Snoqualmie Valley - the area should remain untouched.

"I agree we need more ball fields, I don't think we need them on Tollgate Farm," he said.

Webber also said there could be issues with "compensatory storage," which deals with floodplain issues related to development.

Campbell Mathewson, the Seattle-based attorney representing the Miller family who sold the property to the city, said those potential problems do not exist and would provide the city documentation regarding the subject.

Because the meeting was a public hearing to receive comments on the project to help committee members formulate a final draft, council members did not discuss the issue.

Councilman Mark Sollitto did say that he favors more active recreation on the site, such as ball fields. With areas such as Rattlesnake Lake and the Cedar River Watershed near, and the other 338 acres of Tollgate remaining untouched, the central meadow should be used by residents predominantly for active recreation.

On May 18, a Tollgate Master Plan recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for approval.

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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