In Columbia, some swim against the tide

Recreation: Although public pools remain popular, an increasing number of residents, dissatisfied with fees, are building their own.

October 22, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Columbia has 27 public swimming pools, possibly the largest number per capita of any community in the nation. Some boast sand volleyball courts, spas or sloped beach entries. Chances are, somewhere in Columbia, swimmers will find something they like.

But none would do for Annette Kuperman and her husband, Scott.

"I'm not sure how to say this politely, but I don't have to worry about anybody else's germs," said Annette Kuperman, 38.

The Kupermans are not alone in their quest for swimming independence.

A small but growing faction among the 95,000 residents of the planned community - designed to bring people together at the grocery store, mailbox and pool - are building their own, thwarting the goal of swimming togetherness.

The county has issued 54 residential swimming pool building permits this year for County Council Districts 2 and 4, which encompass most of Columbia. That's a 31 percent increase over 1999, when the county issued 41 permits.

Columbia's 23 outdoor pools - the community also has four indoor pools - remain the hottest summertime amenity among the association's 80 miles of pathways, two golf courses and three lakes. The pools are a popular gathering spot, where kids can meet their friends and adults can exchange gossip.

But Bob Spero, vice president of Maryland Pools Inc. in Columbia, said customers buying private pools in Columbia generally have said they want a pool to use at their convenience, with guests they choose.

He said his company has installed 10 to 20 pools in Columbia within the past year, reflecting increased interest in private pools. "Convenience is probably the biggest reason," he said. "At times, you want to have that privacy in your back yard with your own family."

Fees a deterrent

When the Kupermans moved to Columbia six years ago, they looked into getting a membership at the Columbia Association's outdoor pools. But, they said, they were turned off by the cost.

The lowest price for a new membership is $90, which allows a resident limited use of the pools. The fee for a family to use all outdoor pools is $265. (That's in addition to the annual assessment all Columbia residents pay. Based on property values, it is 73 cents per $100 of assessed value. About 6.5 percent of the assessment goes toward the pools.)

Residents who do not want to buy an annual membership can pay $5 for an individual resident card (or $25 for a family card) and spend $5 or $8 for daily adult fees at different pools, while children are charged $4 or $5.

Bob Bellamy, the association's director of operations for sport and fitness, said the association prices pool memberships at market value or slightly below.

"The real truth of the matter is, we certainly don't have artificially inflated pool memberships," he said.

Columbia's prices are lower than those at some private swim clubs. The closest private club to Columbia, Atholton Swim Club, charged $350 family dues for the past season. New members also must pay a $75 application fee and $300 for refundable bond.

However, in comparison with prices at a nearby planned community, the association's are higher. The Reston Association in Virginia charges its 62,000 residents $5 per adult and $2 per child for an annual pass to the planned community's 14 outdoor pools.

When Kuperman heard the association's prices, she thought, "My God, this is ridiculous."

Four years ago, the Kupermans installed a pool from the Endless Pools company in their Long Reach home. It is not a traditional swimming pool - it is 7 feet wide and 14 feet long, and is 4.5 feet deep at its greatest depth. When used with its adjustable current machine, it provides an aerobic workout.

It gives Kuperman what she wanted most: the ability to swim whenever she wants in the privacy of her home. She is not restricted by the association's outdoor pool hours or season, which runs from May to September.

"I can swim year around," said Kuperman, a teacher at Clarksville Middle School. "I can go in at midnight in December, I can go in at 2 in the morning if I feel like it."

Application process

But Columbia's architectural covenants impose restrictions.

The rules - different in each of Columbia's 10 villages - govern exterior alterations to homes, including house color, security lights, fences or patios. A resident who wants a swimming pool in his or her yard must submit an application, and that usually entails a property map showing where the pool will be located, a picture or drawing of the pool and the pool's dimensions.

Kings Contrivance village states in its covenants that private pools are discouraged because of Columbia's many neighborhood pools. In the past 15 years, covenant adviser Stephanie Moore remembers seeing one application for a private pool, and it was denied because the homeowner wanted to put it in a side yard.

"Most lots won't accommodate them, they're too small," she said. "But we've never discouraged anyone from applying for a pool."

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