Entrepreneur wants to build Olympic-sized pool in Hickory Ridge

June 22, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Water, water everywhere, and not an Olympic-sized pool in sight.

That's the lament of Jamie LeGoff, an All-American swimmer and entrepreneur who hopes to build a 50-meter swimming pool in the middle of Columbia, which already has 21 outdoor neighborhood pools, 20 of them reportedly operating below capacity, and two indoor pools.

"A lot of the competitive swimmers in the county are forced to go out of the county," said Mr. LeGoff, 27, who said he was one of the nation's top butterfly and freestyle swimmers when he was a student at Atholton High School in the early 1980s.

During his high school days, Mr. LeGoff said, he had to go to a school swimming pool in Towson to practice. He later competed at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Catonsville.

"You probably have on the average about 3,500 kids, roughly 100 per team, doing summer swim league," Mr. LeGoff said. "This area of Howard County has tremendous potential for grooming kids for swimming and taking them to a high level, whereas there are other places where kids have to travel hours to swim.

While the county has a large number of pools, he said, "it hasn't been developed to reach its potential to really creating a national stronghold" for competitive swimming.

Dennis Mattey, aquatics director for the nonprofit Columbia Association, which operates all public pools in the unincorporated city, strongly disagrees.

"The percentage of the population that could really benefit from [a 50-meter pool] is, I would say, 5 percent at best," Mr. Mattey said.

He said that among the association's 21 "Olympic short-course," or 25-yard pools, only the Hawthorn pool -- one of the closest to Mr. LeGoff's planned pool -- is operating at capacity.

"We have a lot of room for additional people to use our pools, and we've been looking at ways of increasing attendance over the last several years," he said.

While Mr. LeGoff hopes to raise most of the $3 million needed to build the pool from bank business loans, he said that he expected to get a small percentage of that money from financial backers.

Mr. LeGoff said he has already spent $7,000 in architects' and surveyors' fees and put down $10,000 to hold the 7 1/2 -acre property In the Village of Hickory Ridge, now three parcels owned by William Affeldt, Helen Peters and Charles and Mary Clarkson.

The money was saved, he said, during his four years in the Navy, during which he worked as a cryptologic technician with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington and at night as a Columbia Association swimming coach.

One of the requirements for bank financing, Mr. LeGoff said, is that he gain approval of a special exception to the area's residential zoning that will allow him to build the pool.

The county Board of Appeals will decide whether to grant the exception, but first Mr. LeGoff must make his case at a hearing July 7 before the county Planning Board, which will then make a recommendation to the appeals board.

The proposed pool was discussed at Monday night's Hickory Ridge village board meeting, attended by about a dozen residents who oppose the idea, Village Manager Jane Parrish said.

The residents were concerned about noise, lighting, the appearance of an inflatable roof, such as those commonly used over tennis courts, over the pool. They also said they were worried that people attending large swim meets would park on nearby Harmel Drive and Owen Brown Road. Residents also worried about the possibility that the pool would prove to be financially unsuccessful and "they would be left with a white elephant," Ms. Parrish said.

"I haven't talked to anybody that's for it," said Cecelia Caputo, who has lived on Harmel Drive for six years. "My husband and I are opposed. We think it's going to cause terrible traffic problems and safety problems."

Ms. Caputo said that, if the for-profit pool draws the 800 families and 200 individuals as members that Mr. LeGoff projects, "clearly they're going to be parking on side-streets and perhaps at Lorien Nursing Home."

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