Harford to consider purchase of Joppatowne swim club

Harford County officials are looking into the possible acquisition of the Mariner Point Swim Club now that a Baltimore-based church has canceled a contract to purchase the Joppatowne property.

"We're going to investigate the possibility of acquiring the property," Parks and Recreation Director Arden McClune said in a recent interview.

McClune said Thursday that county officials are "in the process" of ordering appraisals for the 4.53-acre property off Joppa Farm Road.

She said the county would order two appraisals and review the average value of both appraisals to determine the fair market value and ensure it is in line with the asking price.

McClune said county officials must also determine the funding source for acquiring the land and the swimming and recreation facilities.

She said the county's Program Open Space funds, which come through the Department of Natural Resources and are allocated by the General Assembly, have been committed for the 2014 fiscal year, which began July 1, but Program Open Space funds could be used during the 2015 fiscal year, depending on what the state allocates for the program.

McClune said local governments must use at least 50 percent of their Program Open Space allotments specifically for property acquisition and the remainder for either property acquisition or developing park sites.

"We have a fair amount of homework that would have to be done," she explained.

Chris Smith, president of TriAlliance Commercial Real Estate Services LLC of Sparks, who is representing the seller of the swim club, said the asking price is $679,500.

Mariner Point Swim Club LLC has been listed as the owner of the swim club, which was built in 1967, since 1995, according to a 13-page marketing package on the property that Smith provided.

The land is zoned B2 for a community business district; Smith said churches are permitted in that zone "as a matter of right."

"Any buyer is welcome to purchase the property," he said Wednesday.

Officials with the Southern Baptist Church of Baltimore had been negotiating with the owners of the swim club to purchase it in order to build a church and community center, but terminated it recently.

Pastor Donte L. Hickman said last week that the contract was terminated as church officials determined it was not certain they could obtain an approval for their site plan from the county in the face of community opposition and statements from Harford County leaders of interest in purchasing the property to build a county-operated community center.

A number of Joppatowne residents opposed the closing of the pool last summer and the potential sale of the property to the church.

They had encouraged county officials to purchase it, but leaders such as Harford County Executive David Craig and County Councilman Dion Guthrie, whose district includes Joppatowne, had cautioned that the county could not legally take any action while a contract to purchase the property was active.

Hickman said last week that church leaders had terminated, but are interested in renegotiating.

"We still want it," he said. "[We are] very desirous to be in the community, so we have to see what happens."

Smith said he had been told church leaders "invested a lot of time and energy into their due diligence."

"We'd be happy to speak to the church again if they would like resume their position in the contract," he said.

Smith noted that "the seller would entertain offers as they are presented in priority order."

He said a strict deadline has not been established, "but we would like to get something started by Nov. 1."

"We are in discussion with several parties currently to get the process started with each one of those buyers, and we're encouraging them to move as quickly as they can," Smith said of the sellers.

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