Pool stock art image

If you’re looking to cool off in a new private pool, legally you’re going to have to wait until next summer at the earliest. With the exception of a kiddie pool, anything over 18 inches tall requires a special use permit in Scarsdale.

Talaiya Safdar learned that the hard way. She put up a 33-by-17-inch pool that was 54 inches high on June 8. Later that day, after a tanker delivery supplied water, building inspector Frank Diodati showed up and told Safdar the pool had to come down within three days. Diodati said he had to enforce pool shutdowns at two other residences based upon neighbor complaints.

It was “tough” telling people to take the pools down, Diodati said, adding he’s “sympathetic,” but, “There’s no circumventing getting a permit.”

There is no way to know how many illegal pools have popped up in Scarsdale this summer as a result of residents sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and not feeling comfortable going to the public pool.

“I think everyone in the country decided to buy above ground pools because no one was going to be able to travel [and] there were no camps for the kids,” Safdar said. “And it took weeks” to get the one she ordered.

Her pool was completely shielded from the sight of neighbors, Safdar said, and she hypothesized that a neighbor would have had to crawl through the bushes to see the pool and make a complaint.

“I had a truck come to fill it up and when the town said to take it down, I called him because I didn’t even know how to drain the pool,” Safdar said. “He said he’d delivered water to more than 50 above ground pools in Scarsdale that month alone.”

While Safdar opted not to argue and took the pool down right away, she wished there was an appeal process or a 30-day period to do whatever was necessary to get an expedited special use permit. But in the case of pools there is a “no tolerance” policy.

“Under these circumstances I feel like they could be more understanding,” Safdar said. “I didn’t fight it. A lot of people told me to, but I didn’t do that. This year is a different summer. If I knew the town was going to take this action I never would have gone down this road. So many people had done it, so I didn’t think it would be an issue. It was just going to be for the summer.”

Safdar’s two youngest children, ages 2 and 8, now have a sand pit to play in instead of a cool pool, which she said she easily sold online within 48 hours.

“We’ve had a few folks try to install these above ground pools from Costco, or even … a real above ground pool without permitting, so we had those folks remove all that stuff,” Diodati said. “It’s not a permitted use. All pools and spas require a special use permit with the zoning board of appeals. That would be the first step if somebody wanted to do a pool. We don’t permit a temporary pool at this point — there’s no such thing as a temporary pool.”

Above ground and in-ground pools both require the same process and have strict guidelines when it comes to fencing, screening, lot coverage, zoning setbacks, stormwater management, plumbing and electrical. “There’s a few hoops to get through,” Diodati said.

The zoning board of appeals won’t meet in August, but Diodati said there is still time to get on the agenda for September, which he recommends for anyone looking to install a pool for the summer 2021 season.

“It’s really a matter of safety and to ensure that the pool is not disruptive to neighboring properties,” village planner Greg Cutler said. “The village recognizes this particular use may have impacts and therefore it’s subject to a special use permit to make sure the impacts are completely mitigated.”

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