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Swimming lessons for babies?

August 21, 2011

The screams are shrill, frightening in fact, neighbors say.They carry daily from the back yard pool of a woman who for nine years has given survival swimming lessons to babies barely out of the womb and children just a few years old.

Sharon Powers’ Infant Swimming Resource classes aren’t allowed under village rules, which do permit home occupations – but none with any outside evidence. That would include signs, traffic and, in this case, howls and shrieks.

The village’s planning and zoning board on Aug. 23 is scheduled to make a recommendation on whether to make an exception for swimming lessons, followed by council consideration in early September.The lessons are certainly useful, but the issue isn’t straightforward, several council members said.

“I understand some of the sounds are pretty unpleasant because the children are afraid,” Councilwoman Martha Webster said.To be sure, Powers has a legion of supporters, some of them neighbors, who say the classes are critical in a state surrounded by water and a municipality that doesn’t have a public pool.

Kenneth White, who lives a few streets away, sent his son to the classes after the 5-year-old fell into a pool and stayed at the bottom until someone rescued him. Now the boy knows what to do on his own.”I am against so-called business … in any development,” White said. “In this case, as far as what services she’s providing, I’m definitely for that.”

Michael Lenz lives just two doors down from Powers and hasn’t heard any unpleasant sounds. His children are grown and never took lessons from Powers, but he wants the classes to continue.

“It’s a wonderful situation that a service like that is being provided,” Lenz said. “I don’t look at it as a flea market or another business that’s an eyesore.”

Fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children 1 to 14 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates.

Powers, a former scuba diving instructor, hopes statistics like that will buoy her cause. Her lessons, which she gives through a national program, are weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for children ages 6 months to 6 years.As far as noise complaints, “I have to work within the normal decibel guidelines for the Village of Royal Palm Beach,” Powers said.

Village code officers plan to set up recorders next week to measure sound levels.One solution might be moving the business to a different site, Councilman David Swift said.

That will be hard, Powers countered. A local hotel rejected the idea, as did several homeowner associations, she said, adding that other area governments allow private swimming lessons.

Among them: Wellington and Palm Beach County. Both have a long list of rules
for it, though, and the county, like Royal Palm, stipulates that there can be no outside indication of the business.

Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas said he’ll support the proposed code change if the village can make sure the lessons won’t be a nuisance to neighbors.

“We have to strike some kind of balance here because I agree with Ms. Powers: it’s a safety issue,” he said. “On the other hand we have to recognize these are residential places, where people want to go to live and enjoy their homes.”

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From → The Lighter Side

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