Columbia Council OKs $1.5 million for River Hill community center Critics maintain smaller facility would suffice

March 13, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council voted last night to spend about $1.5 million to build a 5,200-square-foot community center in River Hill village and a bubble for tennis courts in the Owen Brown village.

The council also approved a $175,000 skateboard park in the Harper's Choice village, which will open this fall; $220,000 to improve lighting throughout Columbia; and $330,000 to renovate the Arts Center and Stonehouse in Long Reach Village Center.

Some council members questioned the need for and cost of the River Hill and Owen Brown projects, which are the largest in the proposed $6.3 million capital budget for the fiscal year beginning May 1.

Norma Rose, a council member from Wilde Lake, has sharply criticized the $6 million athletic club under construction in River Hill.

"We need to look at what additional buildings Columbia needs, not what additional buildings River Hill needs," said Rose, a longtime critic of the project. "To say it's unfair that River Hill is the only village that does not have a community center is overlooking the amenities it has."

"It is one thing to provide a community center and another thing to try to be a Martin's West to the community," Chuck Rees, a council member from Kings Contrivance, referring to the popular catering hall in Baltimore County.

River Hill village has long been criticized for its new, large village center, which includes one of Columbia's biggest grocery stores. Critics of the center questioned why a smaller, 4,100-square-foot facility could not be built, since a 400-seat hall is being constructed by the Clarksville Volunteer Fire Department next to the center on Route 108.

Supporters of the center said its 100-seat hall is expected to generate almost $180,000 a year in rental revenue. They argued that with the closing of the Spear Center, a large rental hall in Rouse Co. headquarters at Lake Kittamaqundi, additional rental space is needed for events such as weddings and banquets.

Columbia's nine other villages have 21 rooms to rent for events and parties.

"A community center is the heart of a community," said Wanda Hurt, a council member from Owen Brown. "It is important that [River Hill residents] have the same sense of community to gather around."

Construction of the center, which will be next to the Blockbuster Video store, will begin in August, and should be completed in March 1999.

Originally, CA staff proposed building a $450,000 bubble on six courts at the Wilde Lake Tennis Club after players asked for additional covered courts. But the Wilde Lake Village Board opposed the bubble, saying it would not conform with the village center's design.

"[The bubble] would totally change the image of the village," said Rose, who abstained from the vote. "It would be a tremendous eyesore."

The council also approved Columbia Gym as the name of the new athletic club in River Hill village.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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