GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. — A swim instructor in Georgetown Township is frustrated after building a pool in her backyard this past winter for her business, only to be recently told by the township that she could not use it as such.
Rebekah Milito, an infant swimming resource instructor, has taught 300 students over the last two years.
“[I] teach infants and toddlers, starting at six months up to six years, how to self rescue in water,” said Milito. “If they find themselves in water unexpectedly, they know to roll back and float and get air and then find the nearest out or wait for help to come.”
Last year, Milito says, she decided to build an indoor pool to be able to teach the life-saving skill year-round.
In September, after obtaining permits from the township, Milito began adding a 1,920 square foot addition onto her home, building a 20- by 40-foot pool inside of it. She says the project cost around $120,000.
“It’s a big building, so it’s not like I’m hiding what’s happening back here,” said Milito.
When construction wrapped up in March, Milito began teaching lessons.
Two months later though, in May, the township became involved after “multiple” complaints from neighbors. The township ordered Milito to stop teaching.
“A code office showed up at my home and said I couldn’t use it for this purpose," Milito said. "There was a list of complaints, and it’s considered commercial, it’s way bigger than (for) occupation."
The township’s decision surprised Milito. She says when she applied for construction permits, she discussed her intentions numerous times with the zoning administrator, who at the time was Ted Woodcock.
“If it was a no, I can’t teach from home, I wouldn’t have put an indoor pool on my property because, obviously, I don’t need that,” said Milito.
When contacted by FOX17 to confirm this, Woodcock said in Facebook messages that he remembered Milito but then declined to comment, directing FOX17 to Georgetown Township.
The township’s new zoning administrator, Mannette Minier, also turned down interview requests.
However, Minier acknowledged she sent two letters to Milito regarding the pool. The first letter says the commercialization of swimming lessons from Milito’s pool does not comply with the township’s zoning ordinance for a home occupation. The ordinance outlines seven regulations people must follow in order to use their home as a business, such as having no more than one resident and one employee engage in the operation.
The township said in addition to Milito’s pool using more than 25 percent of the home’s floor area, the home occupation had too many people working, too much traffic, and issues with parking.
The second letter came after Milito sent in a formal proposal, trying to get the township to make an exception if she adjusted the number of people within the business, changed parking, and limited how much of the pool is used.
However, the township declined and reiterated its original reasons. It also added while a building permit was issued to Milito in September 2019, there is no evidence in the proposal of any conversation or approvals for the commercial use of swimming classes.
“I didn’t know that I needed to have it in writing, so that was why I didn’t get it in writing,” said Milito. “I felt like when I went in and said, ‘I teach infants and toddlers to self-rescue and would like to put a pool in my backyard,’ that if it weren’t allowed at that time, he would say, ‘You can’t do that.'"
Milito plans to appeal the decision to the zoning board but says a reversal is unlikely. That’s why she is working on a letter that asks the township’s planning commission to consider allowing the use of swimming lessons as a commercial use in low-density residential districts like Milito's.
Currently, the use of a property is considered to be commercial if purchases in exchange for goods or services occur there more than 12 days within the year.
Earlier this summer, Grandville altered their ordinance after a similar issue involving a popular swim teacher there.
“It’s very frustrating to not be able to use (the pool) for what it was intended for,” said Milito.
Miltio says while the change would help her case, it’s impact would help the community.
“It’s the leading cause of death in children ages one to four and the second leading cause of death in children ages five to 18, but it’s preventable,” said Milito. “For our township to give swim instructors an opportunity to use their back pool, their backyard pool, to teach a child how to swim or how to swim float swim, it’s an invaluable resource to our community given that there is so much water around us.”