Pulling the Plug on Pool Proposal

July 14, 1994

The Howard County Planning Board acted properly when it recommended that a privately owned and operated 50-meter swimming pool not be built at Cedar Lane and Harmel Drive in Columbia.

The negative recommendation, delivered with an emphatic 5-0 vote last week, came six days after a similar thumbs-down by the county Department of Planning and Zoning. Within a month, the local Board of Appeals will hold its own hearing on the proposal byAll-American swimmer and Columbia Association aquatics coach Jamie LeGoff. The board should follow the lead of the two other governmental bodies and lay this matter to rest once and for all.

In opposing Mr. LeGoff's plan to build a bubble-topped pool that would be used mainly to train young county swimmers for national and international competitions, planning and zoning officials cited the traffic hazards and aesthetic problems that the project would bring to the largely residential area. Private citizens voiced the same fears.

Valid as those objections might be, we have felt all along that the most pressing reason to sink Mr. LeGoff's proposal is that the pool would almost certainly be underused.

Even the aquatics director of the Columbia Association has said that as little as 5 percent of the population would have any use for a 50-meter pool. The mother of a local teen swimmer complained in The Sun that she has to drive her daughter 45 minutes to reach the nearest 50-meter facility, but this simply isn't the kind of hardship that would justify approval of Mr. LeGoff's vision.

Columbia is already up to its proverbial neck in chlorinated water. Its 21 outdoor neighborhood pools and two indoor pools, each 25 yards long, could accommodate a city of 425,000 people, or roughly five times Columbia's population, according to the National Recreation and Parks Association. What's more, 20 of the 21 outdoor pools operate under capacity and all together lose about $1 million a year.

Mr. LeGoff's heart is in the right place, though we wonder if he might be leading too much with his heart on this issue. We also wonder how a 27-year-old swimming coach is going to raise the $3 million required to make his dream a reality. For now, the reality is that Columbia, already the Underused Pool Capital of the nation, does not need another swimming facility, whatever the size.

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