Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Potomac club hopes to add tennis bubble

Some neighbors oppose proposed plans

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Potomac Swim and Tennis Club board members want to add a tennis bubble that would enclose some of the club's tennis courts during winter months, but the plan is facing some opposition from neighbors.

According to board members, the tennis bubble would be the latest in a series of renovations at the club — including those recently completed, such as the enlargement of the pool, the addition of a children's pool and the renovation of the bath house — aimed to improve the club's recreation facilities, retain members, and provide long-term financial stability at the club.

"Even if we have 30 or 40 new members, we still have families that leave us every year when their kids outgrow the pool," said Eli Farrah, vice president of the club's board of directors.

The bubble would enclose two existing courts, located near Oaklyn Drive, and a third court that would be a new addition. The two existing courts would be moved slightly, and some trees onsite would be lost in the addition of the new court.

In order to build the bubble, the club must file for a modification to its special exception. The club filed plans with the Board of Appeals Aug. 13. The plans will be subject to public hearings before the Montgomery County Planning Board and the Board of Appeals. The process of applying for the zoning modification is expected to take 10 months, Sears said.

If approved, the tennis bubble would operate from September to April, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and members would pay a separate fee to use it.

Ted Sears, president of the board of directors for the club, said that the bubble has already piqued interest among members. "It's about being able to provide great recreation facilities," he said.

Some neighbors of the club, however, have voiced opposition to the bubble.

"There could be potential late-night traffic because it will be open very late," said Howard Diener, whose home abuts the club's property.

Diener said there were many unknowns with the project – including how the bubble would look in the neighborhood and how it may affect property values. His wife, Harriet, agreed.

"I think [the Potomac Swim and Tennis Club] cares about their neighbors, but ultimately they want what's best for the club – and we want to protect our value, especially in this economic time," Harriet Diener said.

Representatives from the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, a Potomac civic group, told The Gazette that they hadn't seen the plans but would most likely support the neighbors who are in opposition to the project.

Some concern has been raised that the bubble may attract people to the club who are non-members, but board members say it would be open to members only.

Sears and Farrah said that enabling members of the club to play tennis during the winter will be a benefit for members who are currently looking elsewhere for winter lessons, sometimes driving long distances and confronting booked schedules and high prices.

Steven Chen, a member at the Potomac Swim and Tennis Club and lives within walking distance, said he would like to see winter tennis at the club so his children, 9 and 14, will be able to take lessons close to home. Due to scheduling conflicts in the summer, winter is often the best time for them to practice, he said.

"They don't play enough during the summer, so we try to get them to play when the weather is cold," Chen said.

The club's special exception allows it to have 400 members, though it currently has just more than 300, Farrah said. That's up from around 200 members about five years ago before renovations began, he said. Farrah said the club isn't seeking to increase its membership cap and doesn't expect the bubble will lead to an increase in membership, but hopes that the appeal of winter tennis will help retain membership among families who might otherwise leave the club.