By building a pool in the backyard of her Fort Worth home, water safety instructor Kelsey Strieby thought she was positioning herself to take on more clients and stop searching for new locations to host swim lessons. 

That was until she found out the pool she built to take her business to the next level was a violation of a city ordinance, and she was at risk of being shut down. Two weeks into using her newly built pool for lessons, a Fort Worth code compliance officer arrived and told her to shut her business down or risk a $2,500 fine. 

“I looked at him through huge tears and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Strieby said. 

Before building the pool, Strieby reached out to Fort Worth’s zoning and planning department who assured her she would be able to operate a business out of her pool, she said. It wasn’t until Strieby’s neighbor complained about the lessons that the city looked at the ordinance again and realized it did not allow residents to operate a business in their pool, or outside their house unless it’s in an accessory dwelling, including a shed or carriage house. 

On March 8, two years after code compliance arrived at Strieby’s house, the Fort Worth City Council approved an updated ordinance that allows for swim lessons in residential pools, requiring adequate parking and no “disturbing signage” to operate. Strieby said she is in compliance with both. 

“We know there’s a large portion of our population that doesn’t have easy access to a pool,” District 3 councilman Michael Crain, who advocated for the change, said. “We should make it as easy as possible for people to access swim lessons.”

The updated ordinance requirements to operate a business outdoors: 

  • The activity can’t be visible from the street. 
  • The outdoor activity shall be solely located and contained in the rear yard. 
  • Operation of hours must be between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.  
  • Swimming lessons and water safety instruction can involve no more than four (4) pupils at any one time
  • Participants must have access to a permanent restroom facility in the principal dwelling unit, attached garage or an accessory building connected to water and sewer. 

Also, no machinery or equipment shall be permitted that produces noise, noxious odor, vibration, glare, electrical interference or radio or electromagnetic interference beyond the boundary of the property. The business cannot create traffic and no signs indicating the business can be posted outside of the house. 

Strieby doesn’t teach traditional swim lessons. She is a certified infant self rescue instructor, who works with children between the ages of 1 to 3, along with older students who may have a disability. 

The lessons typically last about 10 minutes and teach young children how to roll onto their back and float, giving enough time for a parent to rescue them. As her students progress, Strieby adds things like a heavy diaper, clothes and shoes to make sure the infant could float in any scenario. 

“We love to teach out of residential pools because we know that’s where most accidents happen,” Strieby said. 

Jennifer Steed enrolled both of her children, 4-year-old Walker and 3-year-old Leah, in Strieby’s lessons as infants after purchasing a home with a pool. 

Attending lessons in a residential pool is more convenient for her family and has made a big difference in her family’s life, Steed said. 

“They’re more confident in the water, and we’re able to enjoy our time in the pool more,” Steed explained. “It’s a great thing for all of us, and I think it would have been a real shame if we lost all those backyard lessons.”

Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, except for birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Parents should be mindful of asking to see instructors’ CPR and swim instruction certifications and monitoring the water quality, said Pamela Cannell, incoming board president of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.  But more swim lessons are always positive.  

“Any swim lessons are a good thing, especially in a community that lacks access to pools like Fort Worth,” she said.

Tarrant County has historically had higher than average yearly drowning deaths. In 2018, 13 children drowned – the highest number of any county in Texas. Educating parents and increased access to swim lessons have helped reduce the number of drowning deaths in the county, Strieby said. 

She’s seen firsthand how hard it can be to access swim lessons if you are not a part of a country club or have your own private pool. Without lessons like hers that have low overhead, swim lessons would be cost-prohibitive for many families, she added 

“If you’re not a member at a country club, there are pretty much no options in Fort Worth for people to go swimming and have a safe and nice clean pool,” Strieby said. 

Fort Worth residents have recently brought up complaints with elected officials about a lack of pools in Fort Worth. The city has one public pool available to residents: the Forest Park Pool, which has been at the center of heated debate over the past year.

The proposed 2022 bond includes funding for an additional pool in the Stop Six neighborhood. Residents will vote on the bond May 7.  

Crain, whose two children received swim lessons in residential pools, said it’s essential to make lessons more available to families. 

“It’s drowning prevention, period. And we should be supporting that wherever we can,” he said.

Neighbors with complaints about the noise or traffic created by lessons still have recourse, Crain said. The city’s noise ordinance dictates that noise in a residential area during daytime hours cannot go above 70 dBA, which is equivalent to a morning alarm clock. 

The city should be mindful of striking down any ordinances that aren’t enforced or don’t fit in with the way Fort Worth residents currently live, Crain said. The new ordinance was a relief to Strieby. 

“I’m just so passionate about drowning prevention,” she said. “For me, it just became so much bigger than just an upset neighbor … I fought for drowning education, I fought for raising awareness but, at the end of the day, it was about the kiddos.”

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...

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