Haves and have-nots in Columbia Howard County: Is another health club a sound investment or divisive project?

June 25, 1996

ON THE MAP, River Hill doesn't sit far from older villages in Columbia. But in other ways, the difference between them is like sirloin and hamburger. While single-family homes costing $200,000 to more than $400,000 continue to rise in River Hill, residents of older villages with homes at half those prices complain that they are unfairly burdened with low-income housing. They express fears -- if overstated -- that their neighborhoods will become slums.

The latest example of this class struggle is the controversy over the Columbia Association's plan to build a $6 million athletic club in River Hill. CA, the mammoth homeowners' association that operates parklands and recreation for the planned city of 83,500 residents, already runs large health clubs in the villages of Harper's Choice and Owen Brown. It insists that the proposed facility would be convenient to residents of Columbia's older villages.

Perhaps, but the club is also convenient to non-Columbians living in high-income areas near River Hill. Real estate agents already are touting the club as a benefit to those seeking expensive homes outside Columbia, to the south and west of River Hill. Agents tell couples they can enjoy the club's benefits without having to pay Columbia's homeowner assessment fees. CA, for its part, says higher non-resident fees will be a boon, with 35 percent of the club's users expected to live outside Columbia.

But opposition to the club among those living in Columbia's older villages remains considerable. Some question CA's wisdom in borrowing $6 million to build a third club when it is $90 million in debt. They are unswayed by projections that the facility will make $1 million profit a year. Others believe the club is antithetical to the vision of Columbia to transcend racial and socioeconomic differences. Profit is, of course, the motive in the building of a residential community, but adding a fancy amenity for the purpose of luring outside dollars seems to stray from the spirit of Columbia. Three pro-club representatives on the Columbia Council, which oversees the Columbia Association, lost their seats last spring to candidates who have expressed reservations about the proposal. Opposition from Columbia's established villages on this matter may be more fervent than CA had anticipated.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.