Discussions continue on Harford buying Joppa Swim Club

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.
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)

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."

He noted the church is still working to acquire the swim club, which remains church leaders' priority.

"So we appreciate [Guthrie's] personal pursuit, but our main objective is purchasing the swim club," the pastor said.

Plecker property update

The Harford Board of Estimates last month approved a contract committing county funds toward building a transfer station in Baltimore County to accept solid waste from Harford, part of an agreement between the two counties.

Harford officials are now working to determine how 22 acres in Joppa, known as the Plecker property, should be used since they will not be the site of a Harford transfer station, which local residents successfully fought.

The land, west of the Route 7 and Route 152 interchange, was home to Coleman Plecker's World of Golf. The county purchased it for nearly $3 million in 2011.

"What we want to do with it is, we want to give at least 10 acres to Joppa Magnolia [Volunteer Fire Company], the upper part, so they can build a new fire station," Guthrie said.

Guthrie said the remaining 12 acres on the lower portion of the property could be preserved as wetlands.

Seasonal fire safety tips

Community Council member Ron Sollod, who is also chairman of the Fire Prevention and Life Safety Committee, which is under the auspices of the county's Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, offered a variety of fire safety tips for the holiday season.

He said residents should work to "put the fire service out of business."

He noted a state law passed earlier this year requires residents to have a smoke alarm that lasts for 10 years without requiring a battery change, as opposed to current smoke detectors with batteries that should be changed twice a year.

Those new smoke detectors are available through local fire companies.

"They do save lives," Sollod said of smoke detectors.

He also encouraged homeowners to ensure the cords they are using to power their Christmas lights are not cracked or frayed, that Christmas trees are fresh when they are purchased and are watered daily once they are installed in the home, and to never leave burning candles unattended.

Sollod stressed that gasoline should never be put in a kerosene heater because "they'll catch fire like you wouldn't believe," food should not be left unattended on the stove, clothes dryers should be clear of lint and water should not be used to extinguish a kitchen, grease or electrical fire.

He said people using turkey fryers should never use the fryer on a wooden deck, make sure there is no ice in the turkey to prevent water from mixing with oil and make sure the flame on the fryer is out before placing the turkey in the oil to ensure that if hot oil does splash over the sides it won't start a fire.

He encouraged teaching children to get out of the home as quickly as possible if there is a fire and to never go back inside, and that residents should call their local fire department if there is ever a problem or concern.

"We'd rather come out there and be safe rather than be sorry later on," Sollod said.