By CLARK MOORMAN and DANIELLE MARTIN/Montana State News

The Bozeman City Commission unanimously approved Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOP) bond funding for a $7.5 million, 10-field., multi-use sports complex at last Monday’s weekly meeting.

However, the proposal was only approved after amendments were approved. The most major of these amendments states that developers who build across from the park on Cottonwood Rd must contribute to a fund for Cottonwood Rd maintenance.

There has been controversy as to whether or not spending such a large portion of TOP’s $15 million in funds on such a facility is what the public had in mind when they voted for the bond in 2012.

On Monday night, City Hall was filled with citizens eager to voice their opinion on the matter. During the public comment section of the meeting, the majority of citizen comments were about the proposal, with the overwhelming majority of citizens speaking in favor of the proposal.

In addition, TOP Program Manager Jeff Graff shared that of the 112 public posted comments on the proposal’s website, the “overwhelming majority” were in favor of passing the proposal.

Many benefits were listed including the potential for the complex to become a tournament destination which could potentially generate millions of dollars in economic activity for the Gallatin valley annually.

Multiple local middle and high school students showed up in their soccer and lacrosse uniforms to express their support for the complex during the forum, as well as adults that had been a part of the Bozeman Blitz Soccer program in their youth, testifying to the huge impact youth sports has made in their lives.

One teenager brought along a petition with 300 student signatures. She said, “The kids of Bozeman strongly urge you to fully support building a multi-use sports park for our city. Bozeman is too great not to have the best sports park in the state.”

A few people who opposed the proposal also spoke up. One community member who opposed the proposal said that the meeting’s attendees misleadingly appeared to show overwhelming public support, and claimed that a proper citywide survey should assess public opinion before the city moves forward.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Chris Mehl countered this comment saying that an objective survey was done and there was favorable support of a sports complex.

Another man said that his main concern with approving the proposal was that no environmental impact study has yet been completed, expressing his concern that fertilizer and pesticides from maintaining the grounds might pollute the groundwater in the area.

He said, “I believe the bond issue was intended for conservation and preservation of natural areas and I don’t think that we will know what will happen to the groundwater if this complex is approved.”

Graff spoke on this matter later in the meeting when he said that if the proposal were approved, a complete environmental impact study would be completed before the city moves forward.

The Bozeman Soccer Education foundation currently has a contract to buy the property. Pending the forgiveness of a $4 million IRS tax lien against the property, as well as some title issues, the contract will be assigned to the city of Bozeman for purchase.

The 80 acres selected for the park are currently not in an individual parcel and will need to be subdivided from a larger 117 acre tract. The project is also pending the school district to purchase the remaining 37 acres as a future school site.

Mehl said that this is a larger complex than Bozeman needs today, but looking at the potential future growth of that area, he claimed that it is a necessary one.

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