Sandy Springs Reverses Stance On Outdoor Swimming Lessons

SANDY SPRINGS, GA — The city of Sandy Springs will take another look at its development code to allow certain home businesses to operate outdoors. The City Council directed city staff to amend its code that would impose certain conditions home-based entrepreneurs would have to follow in order to keep and maintain their occupational tax licenses.

The Council’s decision, which was made at its April 3 meeting, will allow staff members to prepare the amendment to be placed on a future meeting agenda of the Sandy Springs Planning Commission. Once the commission issues its recommendation, the proposed changes would come back to the City Council for a final say.

Sandy Springs’ discussion surrounding the issue began earlier this year when a resident, Allison Dubovsky, applied for a renewal of her business license to operate her home-based swimming lessons. Dubovsky told the City Council at the March 20 meeting that she was informed two days before she opened registration for her lessons that there had been a complaint and the city was reviewing her operations. The city subsequently denied her renewal for “unknowingly” violating the city’s ordinance, she said.

Dubovsky said the complaint lodged against her was a gross misrepresentation of her business, adding she typically teaches six children an hour and has about four cars in front of her home during those lessons.

The city’s proposed changes include defining home-based businesses offering recreational, educational and/or instructional services as those that are conducted “outside of the principal structure,” and could include swimming lessons, personal fitness or athletic coaching. Their operations would be limited to the back or side yard (when the side yard is not a corner lot).

Outdoor instructions can have no more than two students per lesson, with a maximum of four per hour. These lessons would also be limited to six hours per day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the outdoor area where the instructions are held would be screened from adjoining properties with an opaque fence or a wall measuring at least 6 feet tall.

Mayor Rusty Paul asked Community Development Director Ginger Sottile if the proposed changes would allow a resident to operate a batting cage — complete with aluminum bats — with no more than two users practicing at a time. Sottile said that would be the case, but they would have to obtain a use permit with the city. That means it would have to through the public input process, she said. Sottile also said Dubovsky requested the city to tweak its proposal by allowing her to teach up to six students an hour and to extend the time reserved for lessons from six to eight hours.

Several residents spoke to the City Council at the March 20 and April 3 meetings in favor of Dubovsky’s business. One woman, Lyndsie Viente, said she lives near the Dubovsky home and works from her home office, which is situated in the front part of her residence. She told city leaders that she doesn’t hear any noise and has not observed any traffic issues on the street. Her day has never been interrupted by Dubovksy’s lessons, and her own children have benefitted from her neighbor’s instructions.

At the April 3 meeting, resident and neighbor Ross Perloe also said he’s never had a problem with Dubovsky’s lessons, adding that more than 900 people signed a petition to allow her to continue her operations at the home. For resident Sara Kogan, her children have all learned how to swim because of Dubovksy’s lessons. She was the only instructor who could make her children comfortable enough to get into the water, Kogan added.

Council member Tibby DeJulio said at the March 20 meeting that he believed the city should work with residents such as Dubovsky so she can continue the tradition of Sandy Springs children learning to swim in the backyard of qualified neighbors.

DeJulio said his son learned to swim in someone’s backyard, and added he believed children can be in danger if they are not provided the proper life-saving tools when they gather around pools during the warmer weather. Mayor Rusty Paul said children can also learn how to swim at various community pools.

“That’s where my kids learned to swim,” he said at the April meeting, adding he believes it’s a “huge mistake” when local governments try to craft policy based upon one application.

While his heart goes out to residents like Dubovsky, Paul added he believes there’s no way the city can craft an ordinance that would only cater to uses like swimming pools. These types of changes, he said, could open the door to other uses that one could never imagine.

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