Soccer facility planned

Proposal includes indoor and outdoor fields near Taft Corners

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A local developer has filed plans for an indoor sports facility in Williston that could supply more warm and dry space for the region’s burgeoning soccer-playing population.

Plans call for a 33,600-square-foot building housing an indoor soccer facility, with an additional outdoor field at the site. It would be located on Commerce Street, a dead-end street that runs off U.S. Route 2 just west of Taft Corners.

Al Senecal Jr. is the applicant. He is the owner of the Williston Driving Range and developer of Taft Farms Village Center, a retail and office project near the driving range.

A representative of one local soccer organization said her club would welcome more playing space.

“Any indoor or outdoor facility would benefit our children,” said Josie Bateman, a member of the Williston Soccer Club’s governing board. “We tend to run out of facilities very quickly.”

The nonprofit club, which serves 150 children ages 6-16, currently has to vie for indoor practice space at Williston Central and Allen Brook schools. Another venue, she said, might allow the club to serve more children.

Senecal said he envisions a facility that could accommodate a variety of sports, including lacrosse and basketball, but with the emphasis on soccer. He thinks there is a demand for an additional indoor athletic facility, despite the fact that the well-established Sports & Fitness Edge is located nearby and another indoor/outdoor sports facility is slated to open next month in Shelburne.

“I feel pretty confident that there’s demand for one more indoor athletic facility, especially when it’s cold and snowy outside,” Senecal said.

He plans to demolish the existing structure at the site, which is located at the end of Commerce Street farthest from Route 2. The building now holds trucks and tools used for the business he owns, Omega Electric Construction.

The 3.7-acre site would include parking for 85 vehicles, according to the application filed with the town. The project’s estimated cost is just under $1 million.

The Williston Development Review Board tabled the application during a meeting earlier this month. D.K. Johnston, the town’s zoning administrator, said the board delayed a decision until it could obtain more information about the facility’s impact on traffic and determine landscaping requirements.

Thousands of children and adults play soccer in Chittenden County. All evidence indicates that participation in soccer programs has grown substantially in recent years.

Williston Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan called interest in playing soccer “huge.” He noted that when he started his job four years ago, about 300 youth participated in the town-run soccer league. This fall, about 430 children signed up.

The town is able to accommodate most requests from outside soccer groups for field space, Finnegan said, although demand in the spring tends to outstrip supply. The town gives first priority to children participating in school activities and the Recreation Department’s own programs.

Despite the apparent demand for more space, a representative from Senecal’s would-be competitor suggested that one more facility could be overkill.

Bob Fredette, program manager for Sports & Fitness Edge, said demand for indoor playing space at his club is seasonal. In the winter, the club’s 26,000-square-foot sports field is buzzing with activity. In the summer, he said, the business struggles to find people who want to play inside.

“I have to wonder how much indoor space is really necessary,” Fredette said. Sports & Fitness Edge also includes a fitness club and other facilities.

Other indoor soccer venues in Chittenden County include a building at the Champlain Valley Exposition, home of the Nordic Soccer Club, and a soon-to-open Shelburne structure dubbed The Field House, which will host Vermont Voltage soccer games and numerous other sports leagues, according to its Web site.

Fredette expressed concern that Senecal may have struck a deal with one of the area’s soccer clubs, saying that would be the only way a new facility would be financially viable. Sports & Fitness Edge has an agreement with Far Post Soccer Club that runs through August 2006.

Senecal declined to comment on potential tenants beyond saying that no written agreement had been signed. Representatives of Far Post Soccer Club did not return telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

The town is awaiting updated information from Senecal regarding the project’s traffic impact. Once the information has been submitted, Johnston said the Development Review Board would reconsider the project. Johnston did not know when that would take place.