Another referendum on health club Howard County: Next Columbia election could decide center's fate and town's future.

March 28, 1997

IT'S NOT OVER 'til it's built.

That might be the rallying cry in the Columbia Council elections for April 19, which could give voters their final say on the controversial health club planned for River Hill.

The council voted 6-4 earlier this year to approve construction of the $6.3 million Westside Athletic Club. But the next election could halt the project before workers break ground.

In Kings Contrivance, the council seat will fall into the hands of an opponent of the club, Chuck Rees, a foe of almost everything the Columbia Council does. He is running unopposed.

The incumbent, George Pangburn, a big supporter of the club, will not seek re-election.

That development alone evens the score at 5-5 between council backers and foes of the club. Six votes can reverse council's approval, which could make the five contested races some closely watched election battles, at least by Columbia's standards.

Incumbents from both sides of the health club issue face challenges. Alex Hekimian, who represents Oakland Mills, ousted Gary Glisan by only 16 votes last year. A comeback by Mr. Glisan might assure that plans for the club remain on track, as could victories by challengers in Long Reach and Town Center.

Meanwhile, supporters of the project facing challenges are Council Chairman Mike Rethman in Hickory Ridge and S. Kenneth Puckett in Dorsey's Search. A loss by either incumbent could make the club's future murky. One of the challengers, Jean Friedberg of Hickory Ridge, says he is uncertain about whether he would seek to revisit the issue.

We believe the council should move past the matter. The club would supplement the community's existing centers, the Supreme Sports Club and the Athletic Club. A third health club is an expensive proposition, but eventually it will pay for itself and help the association that manages recreation in the planned community reduce its debt of $90 million.

Columbia residents tend to ignore these elections, with turnout often hovering around 10 percent of eligible voters. Perhaps they will snub the process again. Those who remain apathetic lose their chance to weigh in on the health club issue by not bothering to choose officers who will decide how their assessment dollars are managed in the coming year.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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