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Neighbor: Your Swimming Pool is Too Close

A Fairfield resident is appealing a Zoning Board of Appeals decision that allows her neighbor to put a swimming pool within the property setback.

Patch File Photo
Patch File Photo
It's probably a safe bet that a Burr Street resident won't be inviting their neighbors over to take a dip in their swimming pool this summer.

That's because the neighbor has filed suit asking for a reversal of a land use approval the residents got to build a new swimming pool within the property setback area.

According to a complaint filed at the Town Clerk's Office, the homeowners building the new pool, Stefan and Sadacie Auer, received a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 2. The suit was brought forth by their neighbor, Denise W. Lewis.

The variance allows the Auers to construct their swimming pool within 10 feet of their property line with Lewis, instead of the 30 feet that is permitted under the town's zoning regulations. By law, the ZBA must determine that there is an exceptional difficulty or hardship when granting a variance.

The suit claims that the ZBA's decision is illegal because the hardship threshold was not met. It further states that the swimming pool will have a negative impact on Lewis' property value and the use and enjoyment of it.

In making its case, the suit also notes:

  • "the impact of the construction and use of the proposed swimming pool on the already over-burdened water table in the area where homes, including the Plaintiff's, already rely upon and suffer from an inadequate natural underground water supply and resulting low ater pressure for drinking and household purposes;"
  • The resulting effects of blasting which will be required in the construction of the proposed pool;"
  • Unreasonable noise and disruption resulting from the use by the Owners of the pool;"
  • "The adverse impact of the proposed pool and its use on the extensive and environmentally sensitive weltands existing on the Subject Premises and extending onto the property of the Plaintiff, among others." 

Lewis is represented by attorney Joel Z. Green. He filed the suit at the Town Clerk on Jan. 23, and is asking a Superior Court judge to overturn the ZBA decision.
Igor February 07, 2014 at 07:34 AM
Would love to know the thought process given by the ZBA on this one.
Joe Mancini February 07, 2014 at 09:40 AM
•Unreasonable noise and disruption resulting from the use by the Owners of the pool;" I guess they are a party family?
Creeky February 07, 2014 at 11:53 AM
I'm sure there are a great many details that aren't revealed here. But, I'd bet a dime to a donut there'd be no setback violation if it weren't for the wetlands buffer. Basically, the owners would need to be 75 feet from the wetlands but only 30 feet from the neighbors. And rightly so, whomever developed the permit decided they had a better chance of getting a variance on setback than wetlands. It's a shame we don't have balanced regs and laws on this. It's a lot like the pipeline fight going on. You see, one can make an absolutely asinine claim like the pool will affect the water table, in Connecticut, or to the EPA, and it is the onus of whomever is applying for the permit to prove the claim wrong (all generally subjective because the system does not test the veracity of a claim, only requires that it be successfully proven untrue). So, if the neighbor had objected before the variance was issued, the permit likely would have died after the family spent $10k on analysts and reports and gave up. Had they tried to invade the wetlands setback (why the wetlands get an arbitrarily generous 75 feet but, in my neighborhood, I only get 7 feet from the neighbor, is a mystery), they would have run up against Steinke--and he is willing to spend any amount of your money to be sure that swimming pool is developed outside if the wetlands setback. If the rules were fair, the owners could kick back that claim and say, show me some proof or logical argument that the water table, where I'll be blasting (it's rock, not saturated soil) is going to be affected by a non-permeable object, like a swimming pool, or the rock it is replacing. I'm assuming this isn't an absorption issue as they claimed water table and rainfall absorption is more about flash flooding. Of course, with claims like it will be too noisy at ten feet, but 30 will do, or that this neighbor believes they should be immune to normal construction activities of other neighbors, yet I suppose if she needed a new roof, she'd be allowed that noise... This is a neighbor feud, in all likelihood, and the town got sucked in, and now we all lose.
Ajack February 07, 2014 at 01:13 PM
And people are going hungry, losing their homes and this is news? Get things into perspective here folks.EPA regs are all about control of what you do with your property..as directed by the Federal Government. So called Wetlands' are so far from being wetlands if you truly look at the criteria by which they determined . The government owns your land though these regulations.It's all about control.
judylane14 February 07, 2014 at 04:12 PM
Creeky the letter does not say too much noise during construction, but with noise when using of the pool. Believe me after living next to a house that has a in ground pool and pool parties during the summer lasting till 1 in the morning it get very wearing on the nerves. Especially having a sick 2 year old daughter that I couldn't get to sleep. No I didn't call the police, mainly because I didn't want to start a war.
Igor February 07, 2014 at 04:54 PM
Creeky they didn't say too much noise installing the pool, they said with use of the pool, Please don't take that sentence too lightly. I have a neighbor who is 30 feet from my house. In the summer the pool parties go on till 1 in the morning. I'm glad they are having a great time, but I have a 2 year daughter that was sick and I couldn't get her to sleep. No I didn't call the police because I don't want to start a feud. You don't realize how loud it is till the traffic and the every day noises subsides
Creeky February 07, 2014 at 06:26 PM
Judy, Ajack, you're right. I must have read too fast and put the blasting effects together with the unreasonable noise. Regardless, I don't underestimate the noise. I do have experience with it. Kids are loud. Pools are loud. Kids plus pools are too loud. And I'm not unfamiliar with the struggles of a sleeping or sick baby, there is one on my arm as I thumb this out with my free hand. I note neither if you decided to start a feud or war. I'm sure I've been a nuisance to my neighbors. I'm sure my neighbors have found a wonder of methods to return the favor, or initiate it. And certainly, I know the failures of zoning as my view is now something that is out of character for the neighborhood, and I thought clearly disallowed. Lord knows it blots out the sun and sky, and is nearly brutalist in style, and worst of all, it's just a trick to get around more regs so another, larger and matching structure can be built. No fueds though. I do think less quantity and more reasonable regs on things like wetland buffer zones, and the way permitting is handled would allow us to enjoy some regs that work for everyone, like no, you can't put a gas station in that residential neighborhood, et cetera. The regs are filled with arbitrary nonsense, and the delaying of regs is completely arbitrary.
Creeky February 07, 2014 at 06:28 PM
Delaying of permits, not regs
Igor February 07, 2014 at 07:43 PM
I do have a question though. If there is a doughnut store established and a second doughnut store wants to move in next to the first, the town that said they can't control which businesses go next to each other. My question is how can they control liquor stores and the distance between them. I know there is a law, but does anyone know the reasoning behind it?
Creeky February 07, 2014 at 08:35 PM
Igor, you are into interesting stuff and I'd love to know the history and rationale as well. I certainly can see the advantage to the local stores as well as the fact that a bad neighborhood has a package store and a sketchy looking store front church on every corner, and neither probably does that neighborhood much good. There are definitely some towns in the USA with a ton of reach on who puts what business exactly where. Some do it in the up and up with explicit ordinances, and some by setting the permit bar so high, basically, everything is a variance. The law isn't as you think exactly. Google "olr 2000-r-0782" and the first link should be the CT research report on that law.
Igor February 07, 2014 at 08:46 PM
Creeky thanks. That was interesting to say the least. Now I going to try to find out what the town's legal stand on this is. BTW I don't own a liquor store. I don't even drink liquor. these things just ramble around in my brain. I guess I have too much time on my hands. lol
Creeky February 07, 2014 at 08:54 PM
You're welcome.
Jan R. Reber February 08, 2014 at 01:36 PM
Creeky overlooks the fundamental issue involved here. The ZBA routinely grants exceptions to the zoning regulations that are outrageous and that flaunt the state statute on hardship. The state statute provides a very strict definition of hardship because it is in the public interest to deflect from zoning regulations as rarely as possible. Zoning regulations are part of the town plan of development and are designed to assure that the town develops in a way that is logical, transparent, and fair to everyone. It appears that the Fairfield ZBA thinks they are smarter than anyone else in town and can grant whatever they want without following logic or law. Kudos to Joel Green and his client for standing up to the repugnant conduct of the ZBA.
Creeky February 08, 2014 at 09:15 PM
Jan, while I certainly see the merit of your position, I can't really agree. First off, the zoning regs are not fair to everyone. Secondly, they have serious problems, just one example being that I recent tried renting a building in Fairfield for my company. Since the zoning regs state that any use not specifically allowed is disallowed, and I didn't make the short list, auto repair, dry cleaners, restaurants, et cetera, there is no way I could legally have my shop in Fairfield without a variance. I didn't even bother and rented in Milford. By the time I applied, got refused, hired a permit expediter and possibly an attorney. Went through the variance process, it would have been months and thousands of dollars. I gave up and went to Milford, which stinks for me and the town (as they miss the tax revenues on my equipment--not to mention the issue of job creation). I would have gotten that variance (I'm environmentally sound, socially acceptable, my building doesn't fill the neighborhood with noise, dust or bad smells). There would be nothing about the hardship that would have satisfied the statute. Simply, I just wouldn't have fit the rule set because to cover all possibilities, the rules would be infinitely long. And we don't want to just allow zoning to make judgement calls (some if them do too much of that ready) and it's exactly what is wrong with the DEEP (despite years of efforts by two governors and the legislature to change it). Permitting and regs has been identified as some of the biggest problems in CT's economy by every study I've read on the subject (and that is more than a few). My biggest objection here (and in fairness to the actual parties involved--I've no idea their actual situation so I'm speaking generally) is that a lot of the zoning regs completely ignore the town plan and spirit of the rules--but much more frustrating to me is people that want to change a neighborhood to suit themselves. They should move to that neighborhood. Look at the area where this issue is occurring on google maps (roughly 3000 Burr). See any swimming pools? I do.
Creeky February 08, 2014 at 09:22 PM
Anyway, please don't get me wrong. I've been a victim of bad ZBA decisions in my neighborhood, saw my previous home significantly depreciated by duplexes, which are built on unwritten rules established by the ZBA to get their approval (10,000 sqft lot in my old neighborhood). I'm being hurt by it right now, have before, and I'm sure I will again. Rules will never be perfect. People will always be human. But, I don't understand bending your neighbors to suit your will, and I think people whom engage in feuds have unlimited selfishness, as they harm the uninvolved neighbors the most.
Creeky February 08, 2014 at 09:34 PM
By the way Jan, I've read the minutes from many a ZBA meeting and I'm flabbergasted by the rationale behind many if their decisions. Reading those minutes impartially, by that I mean, I've no dog in the fight--I'm not the owner, not the contractor, don't live in the neighborhood) I often have the impression that some members either sometimes speak just to feel important, or just don't think at all. A constant example is refusing permits for what the owner might do. What the heck us that? We have ZEOs. They can write fines. They will (actually do--you will run into them around town if you keep your eyes open) police whether a permit holder adheres. I don't like reading that the ZBA has refused a permit simply because they are objecting to a use that isn't even being applied for.
brian kelly February 09, 2014 at 12:10 AM
i absolutely love the problems of the wealthy. your swimming pool and spa are too close to my house. the lights from your professional tennis court shine into my master bedroom suite. your polo pony's make too much noise. your housekeeper keeps parking at the base of my driveway. why is your yacht moored at my dock? the u.s. government won't give me any more bailouts...
Creeky February 09, 2014 at 12:30 AM
Brian, it's funny but, careful with stones. Have you travelled America much, or read the census report? If you live in this town, you are very likely wealthy. The 90th percentile income in this country is $143k household. I'm not guessing at your situation, just noting, that number covers a very high percentage of two income households in Fairfield. Cheap, and I mean really cheap property taxes on a house in Fairfield are over $3k. The average is probably double that. How much are apartments going for in this town? Chances are, if you are here, in order to get a swimming pool or a polo pony, you just need to move to an equivalent home a few towns away and you could easily afford those lifestyle upgrades. Fair warning though, those polo ponies aren't little ponies, they're horses, and they poop a lot. Get ready for flies all the time. You'll have to jump in the pool just to escape them.
Richard Milton February 19, 2014 at 02:23 PM
Loud and noisy? This woman and her family bringing this suit are the loudest family in town. The amount of swearing, screaming and arguing that can be heard by this woman and her kids is appalling. They have breached property lines themselves with sheds and are known throughout this neighborhood as the family to avoid. The husband was a doctor stripped of his license prior to his death, poor man. Ms. Lewis should be ashamed of herself and would have been run out of town long ago if it was legal to do so. SHAME SHAME SHAME.
Richard Milton February 19, 2014 at 02:27 PM
and p.s. this pool is nowhere near this "womans" house -- it's proposed to be built on the side of the home facing AWAY from the Lewis household. The sooner this miscreant decides to sell her home and move away, the better for property values.
Igor February 19, 2014 at 02:54 PM
Funny how outlooks changed after hearing a different sides of the stories.
Richard Milton February 19, 2014 at 03:04 PM
http://www.ct.gov/dph/lib/dph/phho/medical_board/minutes/connecticut_medical_examining_board_2003minutes.pdf check out page 6.

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