Germantown's long-planned indoor swim center will be built alongside a new soccer complex in Montgomery County--instead of the spot where a local selection committee wanted it, near the Germantown Town Center.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's announcement yesterday irritated some upcounty community leaders, who had hoped the swim center would help anchor the town center and give the sprawling suburban community a focal point.
Some Germantown community leaders said the move reinforced the conventional wisdom that Montgomery officials treat them like poor relations while lavishing attention on older, wealthier communities to the south.
"Oh joy. Oh great. Just slam-dunk the recommendations of the advisory committee," said John Kerekes, president of the Germantown Citizens Association. "It's almost insulting."
Duncan (D) said the county would build the pool at the South Germantown Recreational Park because it already owned the site, which is slated to become home to a 24-field soccer complex. The county would have been forced to buy land near the town center, something his recreation staff had recommended against, he said.
"It's hard to justify spending $4 million to buy land, plus the extra cost of parking and extending utilities to that spot, when we don't have to," Duncan said. "We don't have an unlimited checkbook."
In choosing to build the $11 million swim center at the South Germantown park, Duncan was embracing a site the County Council already had endorsed for a pool as part of the county's park and planning master plan.
Duncan acknowledged that it was the first time he had acted against the recommendation of a site selection committee and observed that in the future, these groups should place higher weight on cost considerations. But, he said, upcounty residents should be cheering the news.
"They are going to get a first-class recreational facility, an excellent indoor swim center," he said.
The subject is likely to generate fireworks tonight, when council members gather for a previously scheduled town meeting in Germantown. The swim center is freighted with extra significance for area leaders, who note that upcounty is the only major area in Montgomery without a county-run swim center.
The site Duncan prefers, the soccerplex property off of Schaeffer Road, is more than three miles west of Germantown's center. Along with the soccer fields, there are plans for a number of other recreational features at the 42-acre site, including an indoor arena, a place to fly model airplanes and tennis courts. A number of private boosters, most notably Discovery Communications Inc. Chief Executive John Hendricks, are helping subsidize the project.
But the selection committee, composed of county officials as well as community activists who met over the summer, chose a different spot--across from the commuter rail station, closer to the intersection of Route 118 and Interstate 270.
County planners and community leaders have been trying for years to promote the area as a town center, to provide a civic focus for the sprawling suburban landscape of housing developments and shopping centers. For Brian Long, past president of the Germantown Alliance, the pool would have helped the process along, combining with the planned library and cultural arts center there to create a critical mass of cultural, retail and civic activity.
"Commuters could use the pool before work, do some laps, go to the Starbucks and pick up a beignet, go there after work and grab a meal at the Boston Market," he said.
The civic groups' opposition to the site is not universally shared in the community.
A poll taken by the Planning Commission determined that a majority of citizens favor the south Germantown site. Even the council member who represents the area agrees with Duncan. According to council member Nancy Dacek (R-Upcounty), not enough land is available for an aquatic center near the town center.
"Even if you put a pool there, it would be a scrunched-up, city-type of pool that would be majorly unattractive," she said.