Master plan for Sonoma’s Maxwell Field Park gets close

Residents gather to hear the Sonoma County Regional Parks plans for Maxwell Fields Park|

The future of Maxwell Park got another hearing Wednesday night in a well-attended and lively meeting of locals, interested parties and personnel from Sonoma County Regional Parks. Though billed as “Workshop #2” it followed by over a year the first such meeting, held Jan. 15 2015, and by 10 months a second workshop held at El Verano Elementary last April.

Those meetings were primarily about getting community input on the sorts of features resident would like to see in the 80-acre park, located between the City of Sonoma and Verano.

“It took us longer than expected to marshal the resources to move this plan forward, and allowed more time for researching background information and talking with the different interest groups,” said project planner Scott Wilkinson. He also cited the county’s work toward a Moorland Park on the site of Andy Lopez’ death in 2013 as shifting resources.

This time Wilkinson and Steve Ehret, also of Regional Parks, came with three developed maps for the property that each included the major features the community requested – and a large open-space area taking up almost half the park, in deference to the so-called “conservation easement” that accompanied the parcel when it was deeded to the county.

Though the fact that the county now owns the land essentially voids the easement – the county apparently cannot legally have an easement on land it owns itself, according to Ehret – that didn’t alter the commitment to the “spirit of the easement,” he said.

“It’s protected as a regional park right now,” Ehert said. “We are totally in alignment with the terms of the management.”

That leaves a bit less than 40 acres available for the multitude of hopes, dreams and aspirations of area residents who have pitched their proposals for the park. Advocates of certain park features, in particular a new Little League field or fields, a disc golf course, a bicycle “pump track,” soccer fields and tennis courts, were out in force at this week’s meeting. Common to all plans were three soccer fields with new artificial turf and nighttime lighting; more tennis courts, one or two Little League-quality baseball diamonds, at least one off-leash dog walk area, a recreational bike park, a disc golf course and additional parking.

Differences between the plans shifted the location of certain features – such as the bike track – and changed the area devoted to others, specifically the disc golf course. Also known as Frisbee golf, the low-impact sport is said by supporters to be the country’s fastest-growing.

Others were less than enthusiastic about devoting a significant portion of the 40 acres of recreational space to an 18-hole course for an “alternative” sport, and questioned whether it would be an irritant to non-players and picnickers, given the size of course required. Larry Davis, who has devoted quite a bit of energy in his Friends of Maxwell Park website and studies, pointed out the park was Sonoma-facing, not Verano-facing, with all its recreational areas easily accessible from the east side but closed off from the west. Sonoma Creek wends along the western border of the park, and without any public access, pedestrians and local residents are forced to walk a considerable distance to reach the park entrance and its features. The proposed Little League fields would be replacements for Paul’s Field, earmarked for closure in the Sonoma Splash development across the street. Although none of the three proposed plans included lighting for the diamonds, a number of participants spoke up for increased lighting in more areas of the park, for longer use days and safety.

Some wanted to make sure there were walking paths or exercise areas for seniors, some wanted assurances there would be a place for family picnics, some asked for a pedestrian bridge over Sonoma Highway into the park at Lomita Ave., where the Sonoma Bike Path currently ends. and a lot of people wondered about the $7/day parking fee collected even for a stop-over.

The parks personnel said the fees were set by the Board of Supervisors – Supervisor Susan Gorin was on hand, and she nodded in acknowledgement – but parking fees alone didn’t pay for park upkeep in any case. After the meeting Wilkinson said the conceptual alternatives would be circulate in the community for additional feedback through March, and would soon be available online. A draft master plan would be developed over the months following, and a plan update and CEQA documentation would be brought before the Board of Supervisors for approval sometime this summer.

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