Club would devote third of space to youth Planned facility in River Hill designed to appeal to children


A new athletic club proposed for construction in River Hill village will set aside nearly a third of its space for children and youth activities, according to plans made public last night.

At a town meeting in the Owen Brown village community center, officials of the Columbia Association (CA) outlined financial considerations, layout plans and other details about the new club, which would cost about $6 million.

The club has not been approved for construction.

As planned, the three-story, 55,000-square-foot club would contain an indoor pool, an aerobics floor and exercise machines. There would be day-care facilities for children of different age groups, and most of its third floor would be devoted to youth activities, including batting lanes and an arts and crafts room, all supervised by club employees.

Planners hope that families would visit together, with children using sports facilities or study rooms while adults work out.

About 30 Columbia residents heard the hour presentation by CA officials. CA is the homeowners' association that manages parklands and recreation facilities.

The club, which would be attached to River Hill Village Center in Columbia's westernmost village, has been controversial in recent months.

Since 1990, when planners first began considering it, residents and local officials have debated whether borrowing $6 million more to build a club when the town already has two -- and when CA is burdened by a $90 million debt -- is feasible or logical.

Opponents question whether the club will serve Columbia's ethnically and economically diverse population. River Hill, Columbia's newest village, has some of its most expensive homes.

"There was opposition all along to putting low- and moderate-income housing in River Hill, and so it wasn't built," said community activist Sherman Howell, a Harpers Choice resident who spoke at the meeting.

"You are taking my money and putting it in a place where I'm not welcome," added Howell, who said he was speaking for lower-income residents. "This is an issue."

But supporters insist the new club is necessary to ease crowding at Columbia's two athletic clubs -- the Supreme Sports Club and Columbia Athletic Club.

Results of an independent survey, commissioned by CA and made public last night at the meeting, said about one in five members of Columbia's clubs said they had gone home without using gyms for lack of parking.

Residents who spoke at the meeting were about evenly split on building the River Hill club.

"My family and I just moved in to River Hill about three weeks ago," said Lorraine Seelaus. "When we were looking at the amenities here, this planned facility was definitely one of them. I am surprised to hear that opposition might keep it from being built."

The Columbia Council, CA's board of directors, set aside $300,000 in planning money for the club last year. The council, which will vote early next year on whether to approve construction, is expected to be divided on the issue.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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