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The Californian

A softball field at the Mesa Marin Sports Complex, which officially opened in June 2011, is seen in a file photo from that time.

A land swap that would let the city add amenities including two more softball fields and a playground to Mesa Marin Sports Complex in northeast Bakersfield got a critical reception from residentsThursday.

Bakersfield officials told the three dozen people at a two-hour community meeting this was the city's best chance to trade a 10-acre park site at the City in the Hills development for a triangular 20-acre parcel of land south of Mesa Marin.

The city would also have to pay the developer an undetermined amount of money.

"We have the opportunity to expand the sports complex and to make it really the crowning jewel for this area," said Ward 3 Councilman Ken Weir, who represents the area. "This is a one-time opportunity we have to do this. If we don't take advantage of this, the opportunity is simply going ot disappear."

City in the Hills residents said the city charges to use Mesa Marin, and pointed out they had expected a second park in the development when they bought their houses.

"These are profit parks. It's not like you can go over there and play on the softball field or play on the soccer field," said Heidi Carter-Escudero, pointing out that the city charges fees to use the fields and does not allow walk-on play. "Now what we're going to be looking at is a lot more homes."

The Amateur Softball Association of America recently honored the 2 1/2-year-old facility for having more growth and hosting more teams in 2013 -- 185 per season -- than any sports park in its western section.

Mesa Marin generates more than $2.1 million in economic impact per year, and nearly $35,000 in tournament revenue in 2012, its best year.

Speakers also questioned whether possible plans to build about 53 single-family houses on 6,000-square-foot lots on the park site would materialize after the trade -- and whether those plans could change to condos or apartments.

Others said if the trade were made, using the second park would require crossing Highway 178.

City Manager Alan Tandy told the audience at Canyon Hills Assembly of God church that City in the Hills already has one finished park, and that its second park site -- promised by a developer who went bankrupt -- likely will never be finished.

"You have many more amenities than other neighborhood parks serving comparable populations," Tandy said. "As a practical matter, it's not likely to be developed in the near future."

Weir pledged to do his utmost to ensure houses are built on the park site.

In an interview after the meeting, the city's Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover acknowledged the city charges to use sports complex fields but said that could change if more are built.

Resident Irene Gonzales was among several listeners who wondered how children would cross Highway 178 to use Mesa Marin.

"I was just wondering, why is a pedestrian bridge (over Highway 178) out of the question?" Gonzales asked.

Tandy said building something like that would cost $7 million the city doesn't have, could be a nuisance, and would be big and ugly.

"It becomes a very, very large facility if it's a switchback ramp," the city manager said, describing one way to accommodate people with special needs.

Michael Edgerle, a father, said he'd like to see a spray park -- one option -- when development is further along.

"It'd be great to have something like that to go to on those 100-, 103-, 105-degree days," Edgerle said. "If all (our park site) is going to be forever more is dirt, I'd like to see (Mesa Marin) developed."