Battle joined over club name River Hill Club sounds elitist to some residents

December 31, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Just the proposal to build the 55,000-square-foot athletic club in Columbia's newest village caused quite a stir. But now its name, River Hill Club, is sparking resentment among residents in some of Columbia's oldest villages.

"[The name] is very elitist," said Alex Hekimian, a Columbia Council member from Oakland Mills. "[The club] was billed and sold as being a Columbia-wide facility, but with that name, it implies that it is meant for the people of River Hill only."

Council member David Berson of River Hill disagrees.

"I don't consider the name of anything in Columbia to be that big a deal," he said. "River Hill is the name of the village where the club is. That's it."

Hekimian and some other council members -- who oversee the $49 million budget of the huge Columbia Association homeowners group -- are proposing to change the name, which was selected in a Columbia-wide contest. Construction of the club is expected to be completed in the fall.

While outsiders might laugh at such a dispute, names -- and what they mean to residents -- are serious stuff in Columbia.

To some River Hill residents, accusations that the name is elitist are a reaction to the long-held idea that the village is one of Columbia's wealthiest villages. "People always point fingers at the newest," said Sunny McGuinn, River Hill's village manager.

The controversy comes as a surprise to Tim Walker, who won $100 for suggesting the name.

Walker, an advertising executive who has lived in River Hill village for five years, originally submitted the name "River Hill Sports Club." About a half-dozen employees of the Columbia Association selected the name from 98 entries. They shortened it to River Hill Club.

"It was a simple name," said Walker, who considers himself a contest-entry junkie. "I had wanted to think of something smooth and snazzy. I just decided to call it something sports-related in its name and tell where it is.

"I think people get too picky on items in Columbia," Walker said.

Opponents of the River Hill Club name say the names of the Columbia Association's two other athletic facilities -- the Supreme Sports Club and the Athletic Club -- do not bear any connection to their locations in the Owen Brown village and Harper's Choice village, respectively.

$6 million facility

"When CA makes a $6 million investment, it ought to be clear that it is supported, owned and maintained by all [Columbia] residents," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, a council member from Long Reach village. "To call it the River Hill Club sends a signal that you have to live in River Hill to be a member."

Building the facility sparked a 2-year-long debate among Columbia Council members, some of whom argued that the facility cost too much. Supporters said it would draw members from all over the county.

"River Hill always seems to have been considered the exclusive village of Columbia," said Henry Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board. "Calling it the River Hill Club indicates that it's their club."

Since its inception, the River Hill village, the 10th and final Columbia neighborhood, has fought to define its identity.

River Hill is less than two miles from the center of Clarksville along Route 108 and Route 32. About half the houses in River Hill that are west of Trotter Road bear the 21029 ZIP code of Clarksville. With Route 32, a four-lane thoroughfare, bisecting the village, there is not a central spot where village centers are found, as in Columbia's other villages.

River Hill's village center looks more like a strip mall than the traditional Columbia-style center, which tends to be more enclosed.

Behind the village center, the three-story River Hill Club will contain an indoor pool, an aerobics floor and exercise machines. Day care facilities will be available for children, and most of the third floor will be devoted to youth activities, including batting cages and an arts-and-crafts room, all supervised by club employees.

Despite the criticism, the athletic club in the western portion of Columbia is not the only CA facility to be named after its location.

Names chosen by contest

There is the Hobbits Glen Golf course in the Harper's Choice village. The Wilde Lake Tennis Club is in the Wilde Lake village. The Owen Brown village is home to the Owen Brown Tennis Club. And the Fairway Hills Golf Course is in Dorsey's Search village.

Almost all of those names were selected from contests, just as the River Hill name was chosen, according to CA staff members.

"No one ever called those clubs or places elitist," said Rob Goldman, a CA president of membership services.

Although the council could vote to change the name, some worry that holding another contest or choosing a different name could cause just as much of a stir.

"If you change it, you're breaking the trust," said Berson, the River Hill council member. "It sends a bad message to residents. It says we don't value their input."

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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