Work on a $1 million relocation of soccer and softball fields to a triangle of raw land in north Belgrade could begin this fall, barring an outcry from neighbors in the area.

The proposed Belgrade Youth Sports Complex is slated to be built on a 57-acre parcel the city and school district acquired from the state of Montana recently. The land is sandwiched between Dry Creek and Spooner roads and stretches from Cruiser Lane to Al Drive.

According to engineers working with the school district to develop the site, Phase One of the project is to build two soccer fields and a softball diamond, as well as parking and restroom facilities. The fields need to be in place before next fall because the school district is removing existing fields at Belgrade Middle School to make room for a new elementary school, officials have said.

But neighbors along Al Drive and Spooner Road have expressed concerns about the project, mainly over traffic, parking and noise issues, engineer Mark Maierle and school district maintenance chief Richard Tramp told the Belgrade City Council last week.

Some of the Al Drive homeowners, whose property abuts the site, have also mentioned spoiled views, they said.

School district officials hope to address those and any other concerns about the project during a public meeting next week, Morrison Maierle engineer Scott Bell said.

One thing that could alleviate some neigborhood concerns is that the sports fields built on the site will not be lighted, Tramp said.

When the city acquired the property, it agreed to a condition imposed by the Gallatin County Airport Authority to refrain from installing stadium lighting on the fields to be built there, Belgrade City Manager Joe Menicucci said.

The lack of lighting was an issue for City Councilwoman Connie Campbell, who suggested the fields be built elsewhere so they could be used at night.

But Bell said the sports complex will be for youth activities, not adult play, and will not be used after dark.

“This is to replace what is being lost at the middle school,” he said. “These will be designed as youth fields.”

Besides, Menicucci said, the property was the only site of its size “we could possibly afford.

“This is really the best place,” he said. “It was a good investment by the city and the schools.”

Tramp and Maierle also addressed council concerns about a pair of ditches that cross the property, one of which will have to be partially relocated to accommodate soccer fields. The council noted that one of the ditch companies had complained because they were not contacted about the plans.

Maierle and Bell said the engineering firm has been in touch with the owners of the ditches and are working with them to make sure their interests are protected.

The first phase of the plan calls for site work to begin this fall with grading and removal of topsoil so irrigation systems can be installed in the spring. After that, the varsity soccer field will be sodded, while the others likely will be seeded, engineers said.

Future phases of the project include more softball fields, as well as Little League baseball fields, two baseball diamonds for older youth and several tennis and basketball courts. There is also room for playground equipment, picnic areas and other amenities.

The plan calls for trails to ring the 57-acre site, both to provide a “buffer” between the sports fields and homes along Al Drive, and to encourage the community to use the site, Tramp said.

“We’re trying to incorporate community needs as well,” he said. “A walking path can be an asset to the community.”

Bell said the Phase One plan is to “get as far as we can” with the money the school district has set aside. That could mean things like curbs, gutters and paving of the Phase One parking lot will have to wait.

“We have plans for a paved parking lot with curb and gutter, but may have a gravel parking lot for now,” he said. “Our main priority is to have the fields useable for the 2012 season. We would like to have the softball field available by next summer.”

The plan is in draft form and could change over time, the engineers noted. Menicucci said the city’s parks and recreation  board will be involved in developing the site, and that suggestions have included things like a folf course and a skate park. Because the land is jointly owned by the city and schools, its development will be a cooperative effort.

Their questions answered, the council approved a plan to take the proposal to the public. The school board did the same, Superintendent Candy Lubansky said.

“I don’t know if (trustees) look at this as endorsing the plan, but they said, ‘Yes, we want this plan to go to the next step, which is public comment,’” she said. “They’re concerned about addressing the concerns of the neighbors.”

A public meeting to explain the proposal and hear public comment will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Belgrade Middle School cafeteria.