Joppatowne pool closing protest

Mariner Point Swim Club in Joppatowne sits idle after its owner put the property up for sale. Residents of the community plan to the protest Saturday afternoon against the closing of the pool and the property's expected sale to a church. (The Aegis, Bryna Zumer / June 21, 2013)

Advocates for saving the Mariner Point Swim Club in Joppatowne, as well as having the county purchase the property and turn it into a community center, have been meeting with top Harford County officials in recent weeks.

"It's really very in the early stages, but it was very positive and we felt very good when we left," Fran Salbeck said Monday of a Save the Pool Committee meeting on Nov. 19 with county Parks & Recreation Director Arden McClune and Elizabeth Hendrix, director of the Department of Community Services.

Salbeck, who provided an update during a meeting of the Joppa/Joppatowne Community Council Monday, is a member of the Save the Pool Committee.

The committee is made up of Joppatowne residents who have been working since the summer to encourage the county to purchase the 4.53-acre swim club and protect it from being acquired by the Baltimore-based Southern Baptist Church.

Church officials planned to purchase the pool and the surrounding land to build a church sanctuary and community center, and had a contract to purchase it from the seller and owner Murray Stephens.

The contract was terminated by the church in October in the face of opposition from some members of the Joppatowne community and the public support expressed by Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who represents the area, and Harford County Executive David Craig for a county purchase of the property.

Guthrie and Craig stressed the county could not purchase the property while another contract was in effect.

Salbeck said McClune and Hendrix explained the procedures the county must go through to make the purchase, which includes getting two appraisals of the property.

McClune told The Aegis in late October that the average value of the appraisals would be used to determine the fair market value of the swim club and if it is in line with the asking price of $679,500.

She said Program Open Space funds allocated by the state could be used for the purchase.

McClune said Tuesday the county's Program Open Space funds had already been allocated for the 2014 fiscal year, which began July 1.

She said about $1 million to $1.4 million is expected to be allocated for the 2015 fiscal year, based on the state's formula involving real estate transfer tax revenue, but the exact figure will not be known until April.

McClune said purchasing the swim club property "would be a high priority."

Salbeck and fellow committee members met on Nov. 21 with top members of the county executive's staff, Director of Administration Mary Chance and Chief of Staff Aaron Tomarchio, and presented a petition with 3,000 signatures in favor of the county acquiring the swim club.

"They were very, very pleasant," Salbeck said. "They were very upbeat."

Guthrie said during Monday's community council meeting that the appraisals are being done and the results should be available in a couple of weeks.

Pastor Donte L. Hickman, of Southern Baptist Church, said in October that church officials were still interested in the swim club property.

Guthrie said Monday, however, that he is working with Hickman to find another location, potentially a former Ames store in Edgewood.

"We think that's a perfect location," Guthrie said. "It's empty, it's a very large building; it should be perfect for what he needs to do, and it's a perfect location."

Hickman said Tuesday church leaders "really appreciate the proactive approach on Councilman Guthrie's part to personally help us to identify another property to build the church."