The Columbia Association extended the invitation and the community responded.
Close to 25 community members this week shared their thoughts on proposed changes to the Columbia Association’s pool system when the association hosted a public review of its draft Aquatics Master Plan.
While association board members listened, opposition to closing the Jeffers Hill lap pool and the best course of action for SplashDown, a water amusement park, emerged as the hearing’s main topics.
Carlton Haywood, the task force chairman for the Aquatics Master Plan, said he and the committee and Columbia Association staff members have extensively studied the master plan and engaged in a long process, but their work would not be complete without seeking the public's opinions on Tuesday.
“The opinions I expressed were distilled through many sessions with the task force.” Haywood said. “[But] what we heard tonight was straight from the individuals.”
The plan now is in its final stage. Throughout the three phases of its development, the association has invited community input.
It held public meetings in October that attracted around 100 people, and a drop-in session in November to provide an opportunity for additional feedback from the community.
Critics and supporters of SplashDown clashed over attendance and cost.
Robin Conway, speaking for Jeffers Hill where she has lived for 31 years, said “[the] monetary figures on SplashDown speak for themselves.”
But Fern Eisner, a Columbia resident since 1968, was more direct.
“SplashDown really has to go,” Eisner told a crowd of about 80 community members, board members, task force volunteers and association staff.
Bill Santos, chairman of the Wilde Lake Village board, acknowledges SplashDown will eventually have to close in part because of issues with the structural stability of the building.
He stressed the importance it has to the Wilde Lake Village Center as a draw that brings people there. He spoke of the problems they’ve had with keeping tenants and the closing of the Giant grocery store. Because of that, he said, “We feel it can’t be abandoned in place while we wait on a plan. We must have a plan first, we’d like to see an orderly process occur.”
Not enough information is available to the public about attendance and its budget to make a judgment on its viability, Santos said. He said he was not sure if the facility had the same hours as it did before and a change there would obviously lead to a decline in attendance. Regardless, he says SplashDown provides a real benefit to Columbia.
“It’s a place for kids to actually go in the winter and engage in an aquatic activity,” Santos explained.
Eisner and Conway were among about 10 speakers seeking to keep the Jeffers Hill lap pool open. Lap pool supporters spoke of the perceived harms of closing their pool, which they said range from safety concerns for children, environmental concerns and the effect on property values.
If the pool were closed, children would have to make a dangerous trek across Route 175 to get to an alternative Locus Hill option on foot.
Speaking in support of keeping Jeffers Hill open, Santos said increased car travel would release more carbon into the environment.
Many residents said they bought their homes because of close proximity to a pool and they believe closing any would diminish property values and violate an unwritten contract to provide amenities, such as a pool.
Association officials said the task force and association staff are aware of those issues and must weigh them in developing the master plan.
In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, CA’s Director of Community Planning Jane Dembner said, “We know how important planning is and we are a planning community.”
At the meeting, she spoke of the diverse group of users the association must accommodate and the different goals of the Aquatics Master Plan which include increasing how many adults and children know how to swim, addressing SplashDown and trying to create a 50-meter pool.
Dembner hopes “planning ahead will provide great facilities for all and facilitate a wide range of uses.”
With the passing of the association's next budget a pressing responsibility, the board expects to next discuss the aquatics plan at its March 8 meeting, according to officials.
To listen to the meeting, go here, for the CA's podcast.