By Sarah Westergren, Staff Writer
TJ Grossi spent his childhood summers diving into the cold waters of the Sun Valley pool. Now, 27 years later, he’s fighting to keep it afloat.
On October 3, the Lafayette planning commission held a public hearing to address the controversial land use permit facing Sun Valley Swimming Pool, a swim club home to over 35% of the Acalanes swim team. The club is located at 1000 Leland Drive in Lafayette.
With a final ruling to take place on Monday, November 7 at the Lafayette Library & Learning Center, much is at stake.
According to Sun Valley President TJ Grossi, the problem first arose in 2013, but dates back as early as 1954 when the pool first opened on Leland Drive.
“Sun Valley was dug in 1954, and it predates the city of Lafayette,” Grossi said. “Because of that, it never got a land use permit.”
A land use permit, which restricts what a business can or cannot do on a property, is required by all commercial businesses.
Although Sun Valley lacked a land use permit, the pool remained open. However, in 2013, things started to change. The club voted to increase its membership, and began to turn up the volume of its large speaker system. These two things in particular triggered the need for a land use permit.
Beginning in 2014, the city drafted recommendations for Sun Valley’s land use permit. After examining several sound tests and data inputs, the planning department of Lafayette concluded that the pool should have 195 members, 6 dual meets, 1 time trial meet, non amplified music, and the opportunity to operate from 7am to 9 pm during the regular season.
While meant to benefit the pool and surrounding community, the permit created an unintended consequence.
“For one, the recommendations were more restrictive than the way we’ve operated for the past sixty years,” Grossi said. “Also, because we had these firm numbers from the city, we financially looked at it and were worried that level of restriction would cause us to become insolvent, meaning we wouldn’t be able to pay any bills, and we’d have to sell the property and fill the pool up.”
For Grossi and Sun Valley swimmer, senior Wesley Rosemont, selling the pool was not an option.
“I would take it as a death. I would be devastated and would honestly not know what to do,” Rosemont said. “I can’t imagine a summer going by without Sun Valley. It’s the best thing in my life.”
One major concern for the pool was the number of members. Currently, the general fee for a membership is around $800 dollars. With children, however, a membership can cost up to $1,700.
Currently the swim club has 215 members. If they were cut to 195 members, they would be losing around $20,000.
The loss of income prevents the pool from renovating outdated equipment, such as the damaged roof and old security system.
To save the pool from insolvency, Grossi requested a ‘higher use’ permit, requesting a member cap of 230. However, upon hearing about the ‘higher use’ permit, several neighbors sent letters opposing the idea. For many, the number of members seemed to directly correlate with the sound level.
“In the past ten years, the noise level has changed. More frequent swimming meets, loud speakers, and lots of traffic,” one neighbor said. “Because of my work schedule, I need to sleep during the day. Sleep disturbance from the pool noise has caused me great stress and sickness.”
Hoping to address the neighbors’ concerns, Grossi organized 4 community outreach meetings between pool Leadership and surrounding neighborhoods.
“We got a lot of feedback from the neighbors, and we were very responsive to that. We
changed a lot of the ways we conducted meets, and we also stopped playing amplified music at the meets,” Grossi said.
Besides amplified noise, many neighbors were frustrated with the ongoing traffic. With only 10 parking spaces, many families attributed the busy roads to Sun Valley’s growing number of members. Neighbors were also concerned with the trash level.
To address the concerns of the community, Sun valley attempted to address the trash issue by creating a new garbage committee to handle the waste. Sun Valley also signed agreements with the Meher School and nearby church for additional parking spaces.
Despite the compromises on Sun Valley’s part, many neighbors attended October’s meeting to support the restrictive recommendations.
However, friends and family of the swim club attended as well, hoping to emphasize the importance of Sun Valley.
Among the speakers was George Alessandria, a former president of the Las Trampas Swim Club.
“I went to the hearing as a concerned member of the Las Trampas pool,” Alessandria said. “Sun Valley is a pool that I have so much respect for, and some of our great friends are from there. Sun Valley, Las Trampas, and other pools allow kids to develop new relationships and memories that will last a lifetime.”
Though many neighbors also complained of the loud noise and amount of traffic.
“Because of my work schedule, I need to sleep during the day. Sleep disturbance from the pool noise has caused me great stress and sickness,” a neighbor said.
Grossi wishes that the two parties can reach an agreement soon, but both sides have strong opinions and time is running out.
“This isn’t really an ‘us against them’ scenario, it’s more like an ‘everybody needs to talk about this a lot, and then make sure the document works for everybody’s situation.”
With compelling arguments on both sides of the table, it’s impossible to guess the outcome of the hearing.
“If we don’t get the land use permit, then we will need to explore other avenues,” Grossi said.
For now, all Sun Valley can do is wait.