Construction of the proposed soccer dome on Wemple Road is moving forward after developers agreed to move the location of where the facility would be built on the property.
An update of the project was presented to the Bethlehem Planning Board on Tuesday, Feb. 4. In November, the planning board asked for the dome to be erected in a proposed alternative location on the Northeast corner of the property so it would have less of a visual impact on residents.
The project received a height variance in July because at 55 feet, the structure’s plans were 20 feet higher than what is allowed for a building in a Rural Zone. A balloon test was held earlier that month at both the proposed site and alternate site on the property to get a visual sense of how high the building would be.
A special use permit allowing commercial recreation use at the site is still needed for the project to move forward.
The soccer facility is being proposed through a new partnership between the soccer club and Afrim Sports in Latham. Afrim Nezaj, owner of Afrim Sports, will be paying for the project and taking over day-to-day operations, with the soccer club acting as landlord.
The plans call for a 43,000-square-foot indoor, inflatable soccer dome to be built at 450 Wemple Road. Two regulation fields would be inside the facility. Also included would be a 3,000-square-foot lobby, which would hold offices, a concession stand and a small retail area for soccer equipment.
Nezaj has a similar project before the Zoning Board of Appeals in Colonie. He hopes to purchase property at 969 Watervliet Shaker Road but needs the location rezoned for amusement use. That proposed sports complex would include an 86,865-square-foot dome, four soccer fields, a 3,400-square-foot multi-use building and a parking lot with 377 parking spaces. The project is expected to go before the Colonie zoning board on Thursday, March 6.
The Bethlehem Soccer Club previously wanted to build a permanent structured facility, but they could not raise the funds and did not have the volunteers to run the facility full-time.
The new plans call for relocating some of the outdoor fields on the property in order to place the indoor facility farther away from neighbors.
Neighbors had previously been against the plan, fearing the large dome structure would reduce property values and harm the tranquility of the area. Developers said they are now working more closely with neighbors to compromise on the facility’s location and aesthetics.
Traffic was initially another big concern. To mitigate the issue, Brian Sipperly, of L. Sipperly and Associates, said more of a buffer could be placed in between games to help with traffic flow. Lanes in the parking lot will also be widened with a larger drop-off area. The property’s parking lot will also be improved, with two smaller lots added and changes to the exit and entrances.
Neighbors had also asked for a fence to be added to separate different property lines. The developers agreed to place a 6-foot chain link fence along the western portion of the property and extend it to the Miltowne Plaza property. In addition, safety netting would be installed to keep soccer balls from going onto neighbors’ yards but doors would be placed in the link fence to retrieve balls just in case.
Nearby resident Louis Hauf said he still would like to see the fence extended to keep older kids from going into his back field.
“I’ve found beer cans out there,” he said. “I know the soccer club doesn’t condone that, but I’m trying to keep them from going back there.”
One board member asked if the soccer club and Nezaj would look into placing signs near the entrances and exits reminding visitors to be respectful of the neighbors. Jeremy Martelle, the club’s president, said they could look into the matter, but it could cause confusion with their agreement with Afrim Sports.
“We love this project, but we also want to be respectful of the neighbors,” said planning board member Leah Farrell.
The public hearing for the Wemple Road project will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 18.