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Tampa couple battles City Hall over pool that's become a pond

TAMPA — For years, Barbara and Tom Couture's swimming pool went largely unused, even by their two young children.

So they decided to turn it into a pond, stocking it with hundreds of fish, water lilies and other plants.

They love the results.

City of Tampa code enforcement, though? Not so much.

Since March, the Coutures have received multiple notices that their pond conversion violates a city code prohibiting public nuisances.

A final inspection is scheduled for Friday, and if the pond doesn't pass muster, the South Tampa couple will have to go before the code enforcement board and face possible fines.

Specifically, code enforcement's case file says the pool must be "clean and sanitary to prevent possible insect and rodent infestation."

Barbara Couture says that's ridiculous. The pool-turned-pond is just a few steps from a natural pond.

"If there were going to be any rodents, there would be rodents anyway. It would have nothing to do with my pond vs. a pond 10 houses sit on," she said.

And as for mosquitoes?

A filtration system limits that possibility by circulating the water, she said. The Coutures also put fish that dine on mosquito larvae into the pond.

They plan to use the water, which is made nutrient rich with fish excrement, for an organic vegetable garden.

Eventually, they want to put tilapia in the pond for fresh fish dinners.

"Somebody from the city of Tampa doesn't have enough work to do," Couture said. "I do not have any inkling of an idea why, with all the problems in the world today, they want to stop me from having an organic garden."

Code enforcement checked into the pond after receiving an anonymous complaint.

An inspector visited the property several times, peeking over a fence to get a glimpse of it.

The department consulted with city building officials, who determined the pond didn't need a permit and violated no construction rules.

Now code enforcement director Jake Slater wants to see the thing for himself.

"How it looks doesn't bother me," he said. "Just as long as it's clean and public health isn't going to be an issue, there aren't going to be mosquitoes or unsanitary water."

Citations for dirty or stagnant pools are common.

Hillsborough County code enforcement officials say pool water should be clear enough to see to the bottom. That's done to prevent a child from falling in and going unnoticed.

"That's our issue, child safety," said Jim Blinck, operations manager for Hillsborough code enforcement. "I could care a less if they put fish in it."

Todd Myers, code enforcement director for Pinellas County, said problems with stagnant swimming pools are on the rise because of the large number of home foreclosures. If they attract bugs, the county's mosquito control team drops in a load of fish.

"They swim around in there and the eat the algae and bugs and all that kind of stuff," he said.

Abandoned ponds also can cause bug issues, he said.

But the Coutures say they have been properly maintaining their pool pond.

Barbara Couture said she's sent pictures to code enforcement officials and has no intention of letting Slater into her back yard.

"I'm not going to lay down," she said.

The Coutures prefer to take their chances before the code board.

"I don't see how they can say it's a violation of anything," said Tom Couture, blaming the brouhaha on a neighbor who doesn't like the pond's look. "We just have a squeaky wheel who squeaks a lot."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa couple battles City Hall over pool that's become a pond 07/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 3:19pm]

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