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New Haven JCC disappointed in town’s ‘lose-lose’ decision on outdoor pool permit

By Cindy Mindell

WOODBRIDGE – Every summer for the past 20 years, members of the JCC of Greater New Haven and parents of children in the JCC’s Summer Day Camps have coveted a dip in the facility’s outdoor swimming pool.

While the JCC’s indoor pool is open to members for classes and free swim, its al fresco counterpart and surrounding picnic and recreation areas are restricted to participants and employees of the summer camp program.

JCC director Shelley Gans has been approached by many would-be outdoor swimmers over the past two decades, and finally decided to take their collective request to the Town Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We were hoping to enhance our program offerings to our members and to the community,” she says. “Not everyone can afford a backyard pool or a country-club membership. For many of our working families, joining a summer pool club that includes the cost of weekday usage is not a viable option. Our board of directors felt that they would not be doing their jobs – and frankly, neither would I – if we did not pursue this possibility in earnest.”

The JCC’s current permit allows the outdoor pool to remain open until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. In March, Gans and the JCC board, represented by attorney Tom Lynch, requested that the Town grant a modification that would create an affordable “pool club” for families during the summer by extending the pool hours until 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

At a public hearing that began in April, a group of JCC neighbors, represented by attorney Timothy Lee, raised objections to the plan, citing concerns about already intolerable noise levels and diminished quality of life, and projected negative effects on property values. The final 5-1 vote on July 18 approved the extended hours on weekdays only, with the condition that the JCC install a 10-foot-high wall and five-foot-high plantings around the pool area, and turn an existing loudspeaker toward the pool and away from the adjacent properties.

In a statement issued by the JCC, Gans says that the organization is “disappointed” with the commission’s decision, but grateful that the request met with its members’ “thoughtful consideration.”

“The decision by the zoning committee reminds me of the Judgment of Solomon, only in our version of the story, the baby is actually cut in half and nobody wins,” she says.

“Requiring the JCC to invest in sound barriers without allowing us to recoup the investment through weekend use is a lost opportunity for both sides. The neighbors lose the opportunity for improved sound barriers and the JCC loses the opportunity to open its pool to its members.”

While JCC leaders consider options and discuss next steps, programming will continue as normal, according to Judy Diamondstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, the umbrella organization of the JCC.

“The JCC will continue to provide outstanding programs and high-quality services to our many constituencies, leveraging our beautiful facility and collaborating with community partners,” she says.

CAP: the JCC of Greater New Haven

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