When the pool at the heart of their community was shut down and put up for sale, Hanna Fitzpatrick, 13, her younger sister Katie Fitzpatrick, and their friend Grace Barnhart helped spark a long shot effort to save the beloved place where Joppatowne families had gathered for decades. It’s a long shot that could soon pay off.
Privately owned and situated on 4.5 acres along Joppa Farm Road, the now defunct Mariner Point Swim Club included a seasonal swim club, pool house and outdoor sport courts. Area residents say the facility offered the only green space in the center of their neighborhood; a place where families would socialize and children like Hannah, Katie and Grace spent all day in the summer.
The girls have been pleading their case to reopen the facility since June, starting with a knock at the door of their Joppatowne neighbor Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie. With advice from Guthrie, the trio helped launch a community effort that thus far has included roadside rallies, an online petition with 700 signatures, a facebook page and now, a presentation to the entire County Council planned for Tuesday. Adult organizers say their goal is to get the county to buy or lease the property, reopen the pool, and build a much-needed community/senior center for Joppatowne on one of the few available spots in town.
According to an online real estate listing, longtime owner H. Murray Stephens put the property up for sale in November 2012, asking $679,500. The Baltimore-based Southern Baptist Church, which currently meets at Aberdeen High School, reportedly made a bid, with plans for a “Life Center”, banquet hall and gym. However, no such plans for the site had been submitted as of Friday to the county Department of Planning and Zoning, according to director Pete Gutwald.
It is also unclear whether a final deal on the sale of the property has been reached.
Dr. Donte L. Hickman, Sr., pastor of the church, did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did Stephens, who is also the founder of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club where Olympian Michael Phelps began training.
The online real estate listing appears to show the property under contract in June and off the market sometime in August. However, Councilman Guthrie said on Friday it is his understanding that there is no final agreement and he has engaged officials in county government to consider buying the property, if available, for a community center similar to the one in Fallston. Any such plans would be subject to approval by County Executive David Craig and a majority vote of the Council. Guthrie said he plans further comments Tuesday at the council meeting, where his fellow Joppatowne residents will be making their case.
Hannah said she plans to attend the meeting along with her fellow advocates, Katie and Grace. After a summer of civic engagement in Joppatowne, Hannah’s goal remains: “I hope to get the pool back.”
Below is a copy of the statement planned by Joppatowne residents:
“We have come here tonight to ask for your support. The Joppatowne community is in jeopardy of losing the only green space available within our community. Our community has never had any land available for a recreation center until the property at 512 Joppa Farm Road went up for sale. The Mariner Point Swim club is located on 4.5 acres in the center of our town. If this property is sold there is no other property within our community for this purpose.
We are putting forth all of this energy and effort for the purpose of saving our pool. It is not just the pool at stake here but the quality of life for this generation and future generations. We are a water community, with the marina just yards from the pool location. There are no other outlets for our kids in the summer. Students and adults alike have no place to go in the summer.
At this time our Golden Agers have to travel to the Edgewood rec center for their weekly meetings. Other groups within Joppatowne also have to find other outside locations to gather. 10.6% of the population of Joppatowne is 65 years of age or older.
This is the only and last opportunity to acquire land in Joppatowne for a future Recreation center. Fallston, Bel Air, Edgewood, Harve de Grace and Churchville have recreation centers. We feel Joppatowne also deserves this amenity. It would be a major asset for the community especially our children.
We are asking for your help and guidance with this endeavor. All of our efforts are directed toward improving the life of the citizens of Joppatowne and equity in services around the county.
MARY E. SMITH
From committee member Missy Butler:
“Our main concern is that we want to keep the pool and eventually build a community/senior center on the property. We are one of only a few towns in Harford County that does not have a facility of this kind. Since the pool is privately owned and is currently under contract we heard that the county cannot intervene. We are hoping that the county council will be able to help us save our pool. We are hoping with the rally’s we have held and I’m sure there will be more to come, and the advertising from our printed and online petitions we can gather enough support to encourage the County Council to act on our behalf and submit a bid to purchase the property. The church that has the bid in on the property has no connections with our community. This church will cause so much hectic traffic for our little community and not just on the weekends for service but several days a week with its proposed life center, banquet hall and gym. Our community is entirely too small for this type of action. There is only one main road into our community and it will be totally bottlenecked. We want to save the pool for our community to enjoy as they have in the past.
SAVE THE POOL!!!!”
The online petition to “Save the Joppatowne Pool” can be found here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-the-joppatowne-pool/