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Latino soccer league flourishes under the radar
After code scrutiny, city approves use with conditions
0610SOCCER
Robert Davis, a handyman in charge of groundskeeping and security at the soccer fields behind Gainesville Market on Shallowford Road, stands in front of a goal net Friday. Davis said a Hispanic soccer league packs the field on weekends during tournaments. - photo by Carlos Garlarza

A cluster of soccer fields behind Gainesville Market where Hispanic tournaments have been attracting a growing number of players and fans has been operating for years in an area not zoned for such use.

After the growing recreational operation came under scrutiny from code enforcement, a principal with Gainesville Market LLC petitioned the city of Gainesville for a special use within General Business zoning classification.

City officials earlier this week approved a petition presented by Keith Brown that would allow the Latino soccer league games to continue through a zoning change that allows for a commercial outdoor recreational facility.

Organizers of the soccer tournament are gearing up for big weekend crowds to see more than 20 teams in action, according to Robert Davis, a Vietnam veteran employed as a handyman to maintain the fields and provide security.

“The players are mostly men and women of college age,” Davis told The Times.

Davis said some teams have some younger players who range in age from 13 to 16.

“Some of the older players go to other countries and play, too,” Davis added.

The soccer fields are on a 5-acre tract owned by the Gainesville Market shopping center, Davis said. The property was once used for cattle auction and fairgrounds.

“We’ve been cleaning and fixing it up for about eight years,” Davis said. “A lot of homeless people used to sleep here.”

City approval of the soccer fields in the commercial area came with a set of conditions, including one requiring that portable toilets be removed and replaced with two permanent restrooms within one year.

Other conditions include keeping the number of playing fields to what’s presently used — three dirt/grass fields and one lighted concrete field; limiting hours from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; adding and maintaining a minimum 50-foot wide evergreen vegetated buffer; providing a lighting plan for night play; and properly maintaining parking areas with pervious materials and keeping cars off grass or dirt areas.

A large portion of the shopping center is now used by St. John Paul II Catholic Mission. Another section is operated by Landmark United Pentecostal Church. Aside from Hobby Time-Motor Sportz, the remainder of the shopping center appears to be vacant.

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