City looks for answer on day care operation

Jul 10, 2012 By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

At its meeting Tuesday, July 10, the Riverton City Council will discuss whether a proposed day care facility can operate in a city zone that currently does not allow child care facilities.

Speaking in city administrator Steven Weaver's absence, public services director Bill Urbigkit said the city was trying to resolve the conundrum by proposing a change in zoning to allow family child care homes, which are defined as homes caring for three to 10 children.

"We need the council's guidance as to what to do," Urbigkit said during the City Council meeting July 3.

The topic follows a lengthy debate from June 19 when 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. Person purchased a home a 944 Big Horn Drive with the hope of opening a day care facility for school-age children, which would allow her business to expand.

Purchase recommended

Person approached city officials in January to inform them of her intention to open a day care at 944 Big Horn Drive and was advised 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.

Weaver researched the area where Person wanted to open the 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."

Five neighboring property owners were concerned about noise pollution and increased traffic.

Don Lambert lives directly across the street from the proposed day care facility and said the city messed up when it instructed Person to purchase the day care.

"I think the city really dropped the ball on this one," Lambert said. "Isn't it important to always look at your zoning first before you approve something? I think the city needs a better way of telling these people what they need to do to become licensed, because all of this could have been prevented if Person had been told she wasn't in the right zone before she purchased her home."

Urbigkit said there wasn't any doubt that if the city had to do it over again, it would.

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen asked what the city's planning commission recommended on changing zones.

Urbigkit said the council could get the planning commission's input, but the planning commission would not be meeting again until August.

"I hate to keep putting this off because I know Person is looking for an answer," Urbigkit said. "We can certainly get a recommendation but not before the next council meeting."

Councilman Todd Smith said he lives in Logan Park and thought it would be imperative for residents to be able to give their input on something that could affect a lot of people.

"I invite my friends and neighbors to come and share their opinions regarding this issue," Smith said. "I think it is important for the planning commission to weigh in as well."

Council members Diana Mahoney and Richard Gard said they had received calls from residents wanting the current zoning to stay unchanged.

"No matter where we touch this there will be people on one side and people on the other side," Gard said. "I was raised in Logan Park as a child. I think it is important to realize that as time passes, zones change."

Gard said he had to side with the homeowners but lacked direction as to what to do.

"Sometimes when we comply with the city's requirements there are times the city grabs us and washes us up," Gard said. "I don't know that impacting the rest of zone A is the correct way to deal with everything. If we deny this day care license then it makes it extremely difficult to grandfather the other day cares in that area who are already operating and have been approved."

Gard suggested having the city attorney Rick Sollars come to the next meeting and discuss ways to resolve the issue.

When the city gets to the point of allowing some day care facilities to operate and not others, it is crossing a line, Urbigkit said.

"We are desperately trying to find our way back from a cliff," Urbigkit said. "The city is trying to find a middle ground."

Mayor Ron Warpness said if the city does get everything sorted out regarding zone issues there are still five complaints against Person's day care that have to be dealt with.

"The concern I have is if I want to live in residential zone A, then what option will I have?" Warpness said. "I know an individual who looked at our city zoning and purchased his house because of a particular zone. I think it is all getting muddled together."

Person said day cares have been operating in zone A for the last four years.

"The city has approved six licensed day cares in zone A," Person said. "I think there are people who live in those neighborhoods that probably don't even know the day cares are operating."

Mahoney made a motion to change residential zone A to allow only family child care homes.

The motion died when no one seconded it.

Council members struggled to make a motion for an ordinance. The topic was tabled for the upcoming work session where the city attorney can give his input.

"This gets sticky all the way around," Warpness said. "Council wants to be fair with everyone and make sure the direction we move is the best."

The special meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, at the Riverton City Hall.

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