Foes inundate proposal for 50-meter swimming pool

July 08, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

An All-American swimmer who hopes to build a 50-meter swimming pool in Columbia found himself awash in opposition yesterday from several dozen area residents, county planning professionals and the Planning Board itself.

"It's a fantastic idea, but this just seems like the wrong location," said opponent Doug Ousborne, of the Clary's Forest neighborhood, who presented the Planning Board with 140 signatures of people opposed to an Olympic-size pool on Cedar Lane across from Owen Brown Road.

Mr. Ousborne was one of about 50 people who showed up for a three-hour Planning Board meeting yesterday on the pool proposed by Jamie LeGoff, a swimming coach for the Columbia Association.

Voting 5-0, the board recommended against granting Mr. LeGoff a special exception to the area's residential zoning.

The board's vote followed the county Department of Planning & Zoning's July 1 recommendation against a special exception. The department cited traffic concerns and the visual impact of a bubble that would cover the facility.

The county Board of Appeals will schedule its own hearing and make a final decision on Mr. LeGoff's request, likely within a month.

Mr. LeGoff, 27, one of the nation's top high school-age butterfly and freestyle swimmers in the early 1980s, said he was surprised by the decision on his $3 million project.

"I researched, I went to the planning staff, I went with everything they told me, and I did everything they told me to do," said Mr. LeGoff.

He said that when he went to the Department of Public Works for advice, he was told that he needed a storm water management plan, which he provided. But the Public Works staff then raised formal concerns about traffic.

Public Works planners wrote that they would have "no objection" to granting the special exception if a traffic study were done that addressed several issues.

They said that such a study should examine the safety and efficiency of the Owen Brown Road-Cedar Lane intersection, analyze the adequacy of pedestrian access to the property and determine whether acceleration and deceleration lanes should be built on Cedar Lane.

Much of the opposition at yesterday's meeting involved traffic concerns. Opponents argued that Cedar Lane already is a busy, dangerous road, that parking would overflow across Cedar Lane and that cars would clog Harmel Drive if the planned 184 parking spaces were filled.

Many said they were alarmed at the size of the proposed operation, which would be located on property Mr. LeGoff intends to purchase. Mr. LeGoff estimates the pool membership would include 800 families and 200 individuals, and three existing houses on the property would be used for offices and pool facilities.

"We think the commercial enterprises should be placed in commercial-zoned areas," said Jay Swearingen of Harmel Drive, who presented a petition to the board with signatures from about 100 households.

Residents also complained that a proposed off-white, 30-foot fabric bubble, supported by a frame, would be an eyesore and that noise from swim meets would disturb them.

"It's sort of like living across from Atholton High when they're having a football game," said Burl Binkley, of Harmel Drive. "When you get all these cars coming in and out with their boomboxes and their radios, there's going to be a lot of noise."

Other residents who testified said they doubted there was a need for the pool, when Columbia already has 21 outdoor pools -- most of them operating below capacity.

But there were some advocates of the project, mostly parents of competitive swimmers.

Susan Burkins of Ellicott City said her 16-year-old daughter Jessica had gone to a regional competition at Princeton, N.J., and a national meet in Nashville, Tenn., because of Mr. LeGoff's coaching.

To practice in a proper 50-meter pool, rather than the Columbia Association pools and other pools around the county that are half that size, she has to drive her daughter 45 minutes to west Laurel.

"I'd love to have a swimming pool on my corner," she said after the meeting.

Mary Clarkson, one of the owners of the property Mr. LeGoff intends to purchase and a resident since 1957, scolded her neighbors for telling her what could or couldn't be done with her property.

"I have Lorien Nursing Home on one side, and right up the road they built the shopping center. It was all residential, and it isn't anymore," she said. "They just move in and say, 'No more traffic.' "

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