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Joppatowne community protests potential sale of pool

About 60 men, women and children from the Joppatowne community showed up at the Mariner Point Swim Club Saturday, but not to swim.

While school has been out for more than a week in Harford County, children and adults in the immediate vicinity of the swim club, off Joppa Farm Road, cannot swim and congregate at the club where they have done so for decades because the owner has closed it and plans to sell the property to a Baltimore church.

Some of the residents held homemade signs, but many gathered in a knot outside the chain-link fence on the Riviera Drive side of the pool, talking with Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie, whose district includes Joppatowne; Hazel Morgan, president of the Joppatowne Recreation Council; and other community leaders about their options.

Morgan, who will be stepping down July 1 after 36 years as a member of the recreation Council, discussed how removing the swim club will affect neighborhood children, who depend on it as a place for recreation.

"We desperately need a community center," Morgan said.

She said Joppatowne residents have "sat on our hands" when it comes to petitioning Harford County officials for a central recreation hub in the community.

"You're going to have to bombard parks and recreation [with phone calls and e-mails], and let them know that we're serious about the fact that our kids need a community center," Morgan said.

The pool has been in Joppatowne since the early 1960s and has been run by community groups and various private owners over the decades.

The owner is Murray Stephens, who also owns Baltimore's Meadowbrook Aquatic Center and a Lancaster, Pa., club.

Stephens could not be reached for comment before press time.

Southern Baptist Church, which is headquartered in Baltimore and holds local meetings at Aberdeen High School, is working with Stephens to buy the 4.5-acre property.

Church leaders plan to build a "community life center," which includes a 400- to 600-seat sanctuary, in three to five years, and hope to keep the pool open during the summer in the years before the community life center is completed.

"That would be more, I think, of an amenity to the community, seeing as how Harford County does not have a great number of banquet halls and community life centers available," the Rev. Donte Hickman, of Southern Baptist, told The Aegis before Saturday's protest.

Guthrie stressed to the crowd Saturday that the contract between the church and Stephens has not been finalized, but the county cannot "step in front of it" and offer another contract while negotiations are ongoing.

Residents and Guthrie discussed having the county purchase the property, if the purchase contract is not executed, and establish a community center.

Many residents said they had only recently learned about the proposal to purchase the swim club.

Hannah Fitzpatrick, 13, who lives in the nearby Rumsey Island neighborhood, learned about it after attending a regular community meeting with her family last week.

Hannah, who regularly swims at the pool with her sister, Katie, and their friends, contacted The Aegis and Harford County officials about the pending sale.

"We love the pool," she said Saturday. "That's where we hang out in the summer."

Hannah held a sign that stated, "40 years of history!" and her sister's sign stated: "Be cool save our pool!"

"Last year we came here and stayed here every day, and were friends with the lifeguards and the people in the snack shack," the Fitzpatrick sisters' friend, Grace Barnhart, 12, said.

Several residents recalled that their grown children learned to swim at Mariner Point. Longtime resident Ginny Lemken is concerned about the traffic a 400- to 600-seat facility could bring to the community.

"This is the main road here to Joppatowne," she said of Joppa Farm Road. "[It's] busy already."

David Brust, who lives in Bel Air but used to live "around the corner" from the pool, was part of a group of residents who ran the pool for several years during the 1990s. He said the property was given to private owners with the stipulation that it could not be used for anything but a pool.

"It was never supposed to be nothing but a pool," he said.

Residents are working to put together a petition drive and contact local elected officials to obtain support. Anyone seeking more information can contact resident Mary E. Smith,

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