The city’s desire to annex 77 acreages in southeast Lincoln — and make the transition slightly less painful for those acreage owners — will likely result in updated safety rules for Lincoln homeowners who have swimming pools.
In August, when city officials first began meeting with homeowners on the 445 acres generally bounded by 70th and 84th streets and Pine Lake and Yankee Hill roads, those homeowners raised a number of concerns, said Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Director David Cary.
They worried about many of the things existing property owners face with annexation: higher property taxes, paying a wheel tax, different rules regarding pets, hooking up to city water and sewer lines.
In this case, those concerns also involved swimming pools, and the city’s ordinance that requires pools that hold at least 18 inches of water to have at least a 4-foot-high fence with gaps less than 4 inches surrounding them.
Although such regulations for swimming pools are common in cities with building and safety codes, fences aren’t required in the county, said Scott Holmes, environmental health manager with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
Acreage owners with pools told city officials that the technology for pool covers has changed, making them much safer. The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, which oversees the rules, agreed to look into it.
The result: Proposed changes to the ordinance that would allow pool covers that meet certain specifications, along with pool alarms, instead of fences. If those pool covers aren’t completely closed, someone at least 16 years or older must be supervising.
The updated ordinance would also require fences to meet certain specifications, and it added hot tubs, spas and whirlpools to the ordinance, although in answer to questions from City Councilman Tom Beckius, health department officials clarified that above-ground hot tubs must have covers but not alarms.
The existing ordinance says pools higher than 4 feet above ground don’t need to be fenced but the access to the pool does, or, if a ladder is used, it has to be removed when the pool’s not being used. The same applies to hot tubs.
Cary said the change was one thing the city felt it could do to address acreage owner concerns, although others that likely affect more property owners, such as those dealing with pets — won’t change.
Steve Beal, manager of Lincoln Animal Control, told acreage owners the department would work with pet owners to help them comply with various city ordinances dealing with “large animals” — everything from horses to goats (but not pigs), as well as chickens (no roosters allowed), and smaller animals.
He said it's hard to assess how many homeowners will be affected because there are lots of factors at play. For instance, the more land you have, the more large animals the city will allow.
Enforcement of animal ordinances, like those dealing with swimming pools, are largely complaint-based.
Growing cities and tanker trucks
The annexation of the southeast Lincoln acreages raised another interesting point: areas of the city that don’t have fire hydrants.
Turns out it’s not a new point for Lincoln Fire and Rescue, which has been considering the purchase of tankers: fire equipment that carries large amounts of water, common with rural departments.
Chief Dave Engler said the department has been looking at buying tankers, something fairly common for cities as they grow.
“We’ve been looking at it for a while because we do have areas, currently, that don’t have hydrant systems,” he said. “As the city continues to grow there will be areas similar to this that don’t initially have a water source.”
For instance, when Firethorn, the upscale golf course and surrounding homes in east Lincoln were annexed, it didn’t have hydrants, though it does now, he said.
Omaha, he said, has added a couple of water tankers, and as cities grow, they have more need, as they move into areas closer to or that intermingle with more wooded areas.
The department knows about non-hydrant areas and is prepared to handle them with existing equipment, or, if necessary, call for assistance from rural departments.
Engler said buying tankers is a long-range plan and not now in the budget. They cost about $350,000, he said, significantly less than the $800,000 cost of a fire engine.
Sharing resettlement ideas
Seems Lincoln and Portugal have something in common.
Both Nebraska’s capital city and the country across the Atlantic welcome refugees from around the world, and Tuesday, a group from Portugal spent the day in Lincoln to learn what happens here.
Lincoln has long been known as a community that welcomes refugees, as has Portugal in recent years, especially at a time when anti-immigration rhetoric is on the rise in other European countries.
Lancaster County Commissioner Christa Yoakum, who was involved in creating a strategic plan for the city and county to help immigrants and refugees, said the visit stems from work the city and county have done with two national nonprofits.
The city got grants from both Welcoming America and the American Immigration Council, nonprofits that work with immigrants, refugees and the places that resettle them.
The grants offered technical assistance to the city and county to create the strategic plan, and also connected Lincoln and Portugal officials, Yoakum said.
Portugal officials are touring other cities — El Paso and Dallas in Texas; San Jose, California; Austin, Minnesota. In Lincoln, they met with the mayor, visited the city’s cultural centers, met people who’ve gone through the MyCity Academy, which helps refugees and immigrants to learn more about city government, and visited Lincoln Literacy.
“They are sharing some of their plans and are learning (about ours),” Yoakum said. “It’s a great exchange for us.”