Officials with the Southern Baptist Church of Baltimore have terminated their contract to purchase the Mariner Point Swim Club of Joppatowne, but that does not mean they have lost interest in acquiring the property and building a church and community center on it.
"We still want it," the church's pastor, the Rev. Donte L. Hickman, said Thursday. "[We are] very desirous to be in the community, so we have to see what happens."
Hickman confirmed church officials, who planned to invest $7 million in the land and the facilities, terminated the contract, which had been extended to January.
The pastor cited the uncertainty of getting a site plan approved by the county, in the face of opposition on the part of some people in the Joppatowne community and interest expressed by some Harford County officials, notably Dion Guthrie., who represents the area on the Harford County Council.
"The church really feels, in a lot of ways, violated, because we were coming to this innocently, to purchase property that has been put up for sale," Hickman said of strong opposition expressed in the community.
The pastor said church leaders plan to renegotiate a contract with the sellers. The swim club, which is part of a 4.5-acre property off Joppa Farm Road, is owned by Murray Stephens.
"We're not running and we're not hiding, and the conversations will be had and this will come to a close," Hickman said.
Guthrie and Harford County Executive David R. Craig have pointed out the county is precluded from making any move toward purchasing the property as long as it is under contract.
Guthrie announced during Tuesday's County Council meeting that he had been informed the contract between the Southern Baptist Church of Baltimore and Stephens had "fallen through."
He made no mention of the church's plan to renegotiate.
"I'm hoping that there's some way that the county can purchase that property and turn it into a place where all people in the county can have their own little place, like they do in Fallston and they do in Bel Air and they do in Havre de Grace," Guthrie said.
The pool was closed during this summer, and a number of Joppatowne residents protested the closure and potential sale of the swim club, which has been a summertime mainstay for two to three generations of people in the community.
Protests were organized in June, and a Save the Pool Committee was formed. There are about eight members of the committee, who have worked to "keep it in the forefront of the community," member Hazel Morgan said.
Morgan, a former president of the Joppatowne Recreation Council, stepped down in June after 36 years of working on the council.
She said more than 3,000 signatures of people in favor of saving the swim club have been affixed to petitions posted online and on paper.
"We have been working all summer," she said. "Our hope is that the county will indeed see the need and will appropriate funds for the purchase of that particular property."
Morgan said she and others in her community want to see a youth center and senior center operated by the county's Department of Parks and Recreation on the property.
She said it was not clear if the pool would be retained should the county end up with the property, adding that would be at the discretion of Parks and Recreation officials.
Committee member Mary E. Smith said others on her committee plan to deliver the petition signatures to Craig's office and continue working with county leaders to get them to purchase the property.
"We're not sitting idly by," she said. "We're keeping our fingers in this pie and moving forward as much as we can."
Hickman noted a community center would be built before a church, and the center would be open to any members of the Joppatowne community.
"If they want a community center, does it matter who builds it?" he asked.