The Columbia Association's governing board approved two controversial athletic facilities last night, committing nearly $10 million over the next two years to build a health club in River Hill village and an ice rink-sports center in Harper's Choice village.
The homeowners association will borrow money to build the projects, adding to its debt of about $90 million, which apparently is the largest of any homeowners association in the nation, according to a Sun survey of large homeowner associations.
Supporters say the two facilities eventually will pay for themselves and bring in millions of dollars in profits to the association. The health club was approved, 6-4, and the ice rink, 7-3.
Six votes are needed to approve a project.
The CA is supported by fees it charges to use its facilities and by about $18 million in property assessments levied on homeowners and businesses. A person living in a $180,000 house, for example, pays an annual assessment of $657 to the CA.
Last night's votes came as the CA's 10-member elected board made final its overall $49 million spending plan for the next fiscal year, 26 percent more than current spending.
Of all the items on the proposed budget, though, the two athletic projects have gotten the most attention from Columbia residents during the past year, particularly the $6.3 million River Hill facility.
The vote on the River Hill project generally split along lines corresponding to the age of the villages. Board members from Columbia's newer villages tended to support the project.
Last night, supporters again said the River Hill facility would relieve crowding at the CA's two existing clubs. And they said if the CA does not build the facility, a private company will build in the Clarksville area and pull much-needed user fees out of Columbia.
Finally, they said, profits from the facility could be used to chip away at the CA's debt.
"I think the case has been made," said George Pangburn, who represents Kings Contrivance village on the board.
Joining Pangburn in voting for the River Hill facility were David Berson of River Hill, Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge, Ken Puckett of Dorsey's Search, Hope Sachwald of Harper's Choice and Wanda Hurt of Owen Brown.
Hurt, who represents relatively old Owen Brown and won election last year promising to question large spending projects, said the majority of her residents have told her they supported the facility.
Opponents of the River Hill facility have long been concerned about borrowing more money. Next year, the CA will spend more than $12 million on interest and principal to service its debt.
"We have more urgent needs," said Alex Hekimian of Oakland Mills village. "We have problems with our older villages. That's where our attention should be."
Joining Hekimian in opposition were three other board members representing older villages: Joe Merke of Town Center, Roy Lyons of Long Reach and Norma Rose of Wilde Lake.
The three-story health club, which could open as soon as the summer of 1998, would contain an indoor swimming pool, weight-training facilities, a basketball-volleyball gym, spa services and an arts and dance studio.
The same board members who supported the health club also voted for the ice rink, joined by Lyons of Long Reach.
CA staffers predict that the $3.3 million ice rink facility, which also would have an 18-hole miniature golf course and batting cages, will have lower financial returns than the health club.
But board members said they felt it would be good for Columbia residents, offering different athletic options. And aging Harper's Choice Village Center "could use a boost," said Sachwald.
Wilde Lake's Rose said the demand isn't there for the ice rink.
Also last night, the board approved a $10,357 grant to help the River Hill Community Association get through the current fiscal year.
River Hill officials have said they have fallen short in money-making ventures, particularly the rentals of their meeting room.
Pub Date: 2/27/97