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Council to discuss day care dilemma

Jun 30, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, the Riverton City Council will discuss options on whether or not a proposed day care facility should be allowed to operate in a city zone that currently does not allow child care facilities.

The topic follows a lengthy debate from June 19 where council members denied approval for the facility based on city zoning and protests filed against the applicant.

Jennifer Person owns a day care called Nennyopolis at 911 E. Roosevelt Ave. where she said she often operates at full capacity. Person purchased a home at 944 Big Horn Drive with the hope of opening a day care facility for school-age children, which would allow her business to expand and allow more clients to have child care.

"The older kids are often squeezed out of facilities for the younger kids who require more attention," Person said.

Person approached the city in January to inform them of her intentions to open a day care at 944 Big Horn Drive and was instructed by city staff to purchase the home. Person was informed that once she purchased the home, the city would release a map of adjoining property owners for Person to approach to make sure a day care would be acceptable in that area.

"I complied with everything that was required of me by the city," Person said. "City staff was aware of my intentions when I approached them in January. They never told me there was any issue with what I was trying to do."

City staff released the map of adjoining property owners to Person who went to 17 neighbors and received negative feedback from five who protested Person's desire for a day care.

The protesters sighted concerns of noise pollution and increased flows of traffic within the neighborhood where the day care would be located.

City administrator Steven Weaver researched the area where Person wanted to open a day care and found it was in residential zone A. The Riverton Municipal Code requires that homes within zone A must be, "one family dwellings constructed in all respects to comply with the requirements of the code."

"I have nothing against day cares, but it is my job to look over city codes," Weaver said. "When we did get some protests I wanted to become knowledgeable about what was going on. The city is in a dilemma because we have a couple of other day cares in the area approved in zone A."

Weaver said the council was in a quandary because if it approved Person's day care, it would go directly against the city code.

Two day care facilities near Person's proposed day care site are located at 311 Elk Drive and 277 Deer Drive, which are both in zone A.

"It is an undue hardship that Person purchased the property for that use and would be going against city code," Weaver said. "If we change the zoning to allow child care facilities in zone A then you have to allow them throughout the city, and that might spur a lot of interest from other parties wanting to start a day care."

Weaver also suggested Person could apply for a variance, something unique to the property for which the variance is sought and not applicable generally to other property.

Councilman Richard Gard said the problem with zoning is it always excludes someone.

"I have sympathy for Person," Gard said. "Now, we are going to have to look at the other day cares that we have already approved. A variance is attached to the title of the property and stays with that property so I don't know if that is what we want to do."

Gard said it was sad that Person had spent so much money on the property and suggested changing the zoning for the area where the day cares were located to comply with city code.

"We would have to see how many people showed up to protest," Gard said. "We have to be servants of the people and do what the majority of people tell us to do. If those property owners have been told it is zone A then we have to respect that."

Don Lambert lives directly across the street from where Person hopes to open her day care.

"I have lived in my house for 20 years," Lambert said. "It has been a quiet, peaceful neighborhood. Added traffic along with the general commotion of a business going in on our block would cause a higher risk to the children who live near the area."

Lambert said it seemed as if more and more day cares were opening up near his residence.

"I'm not totally against this day care, but if you open the area for one business then you are opening it up to other businesses," Lambert said.

Eight families whose children have been under the care of Person at Nennyopolis approached council members in support of Person's new day care.

Stephanie Malcolm said she has two small children who have attended day care for four years.

"Person's business has allowed me to work and get the second income my family needs," Malcolm said. "We need to understand that child care providers have an important role in this community. Person did everything correctly with what she was told from the city. Don't penalize a potential business because of a zoning oversight."

"It is obvious you are a qualified day care provider," Mayor Ron Warpness said. "The challenge council members have is there are five citizens in your area who are protesting this day care. We are not allowed to put a day care in a residential zone A area. We have to figure out how to move forward on this so please don't take any comments or discussion from council as anything personal against you or the quality of work you are doing."

Warpness asked if city staff could go back and look at the requirement given to Person to purchase the property.

"The staff that you talked to do not have the authority to make those types of decisions," Warpness said. "At this point all we can do is be as honest and upfront with what we are trying to do."

Gard made a motion to deny Person's permit application.

Councilman Eric Heiser said he thought council needed to give Person advice on how she should proceed.

Warpness instructed city staff to bring something that would address the problem to the next council meeting.

"Once again, we can not forget we are dealing with citizens that are in opposition to it," Warpness said. "Whether or not we resolve the ordinance side there are citizens who are opposed to this."

Council members voted to deny Person's license application.

"We will have something fleshed out at the next meeting," Warpness said.

On June 20, Person said she thinks council members are wanting to change some of the ways things are handled.

"I realize they did the best they could last night," Person said. "The fact there are two day cares operating in that zone sets a precedence that they are allowed."

Person said she wanted to open an older child care center, which was the only reason she sold her home.

"I did not sell it because I wanted a new home," Person said. "The hard part now is figuring out what to do. I did everything I was told to do. I went to the city prior to purchasing the property, and the reason I am pushing this now is I don't want someone else to go through this."

Person said she is thankful for the support from her customers who showed up to the meeting and spoke to council members.

Person said she hopes something will change in the future with the requirements put forth by the city.

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Riverton City Council