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Council splits on day care squabble
Amber Goodrich spoke in favor of allowing existing day care facilities to continue operating in Riverton residential zone A. Tuesday's city council meeting drew a big crowd to Riverton City Hall. Photo by Wayne Nicholls

Council splits on day care squabble

Jul 18, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

4-3 vote on ordinance for small centers in zone A

Riverton City Council members were unanimous in letting residents know they were not against children at July 17 council meeting. However, the council was not unanimous on allowing child care facilities to operate in a city zone that currently does not permit them.

More than 45 residents showed up to the meeting to share their support or disapproval of an ordinance that would allow child care centers for up to eight children to operate in residential zone A.

Mayor Ron Warpness started the discussion by reading a poem titled "Bag of Tools" by R.L. Sharp reminding those planning to speak that each person has his or her own talents.

"We need to remember that everyone has an opinion that has value and merit," Warpness said. "There are not many things that are worth a broken friendship, and I can assure you this issue is not one of them. Be civil and respectful as you address this issue."

Zone controversy

The controversy concerning day care facilities began 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 house 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.

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 contact to make sure a day care would be acceptable in that area.

City administrator Steven 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."

But other day care facilities already are operating in zone A, and denial of Person's application could have implications for the existing centers in zone A.

Public comment

Council members voted to hold a public hearing for residents to voice their concerns surrounding the issue.

Richard Kuhnley addressed the council with research he had found concerning zoning for small day care facilities.

"Day care facilities deserve to be in residential areas," Kuhnley said. "People talk about the concern for noise, but the noise is no different than a lawnmower running. If the council decides to close the day cares already open, then you are going to have a lot of underground day care facilities operating where safety will become an issue."

Amber Goodrich owns Amber's Home Day Care, which she said has operated for several years in zone A with no problems. After walking around her zone A neighborhood for four hours on Monday night talking to neighbors about their concerns, Goodrich informed council members that several neighbors didn't even know she operated a day care in the neighborhood.

"I think family child care homes are essential to this community," Goodrich said. "When you put us out of business, you are not only cutting the incomes of day care providers but you are also cutting the availability to families who need someone to take care of their children so they can stay employed."

Goodrich also shared concern for people who would start to open underground day cares that were not approved or licensed.

"If you do close us down, there will still be providers," Goodrich said. "If that happens, you run the risk of compromising the children's safety... It is important to protect them and not have underground services."

Charles Wright said it bothered him that the city was going to throw out zoning for the approval of the day cares.

"I have nothing against day care, but under certain restrictions," Wright said. "I am very much opposed to council taking away the rights of those people who have purchased properties in zone A.

"I can't believe you have to be a Harvard graduate to draft a temporary permit to allow the day cares already open to proceed. I am in favor of them but opposed to you taking my rights away."

Council input

The public hearing continued for an hour with the majority of those who spoke showing support for the day care facilities.

Councilman Richard Gard said he had received seven phone calls from residents, with five opposed to the zone change and only two in favor. Gard said he thought it was important for the city to establish something and stick with it.

"I would like to get a situation where it is easily taken care of, where you either comply with zoning or you don't comply," Gard said. "It is difficult for me to go tell someone who has lived in their house for over 40 years that even though they have complied with all of the rules, they are going to have their zoning changed."

Weaver said that if council didn't want to change the zoning, then allowing home occupations under a special use permit could be allowed.

Gard said everything could be solved if a special use permit for "spot zoning" in four locations was allowed for day care facilities, including the two already operating in zone A, and the two pending applications awaiting approval from the city.

Gard said the city loved children and wanted them to be in good day care situations.

Council members voted to approve on first reading ordinance No. 12-014 amending RMC Title Five to include small family child care homes where a facility provides care for three to eight children for part of a day in the home of the provider. The hours of operation would be limited from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The homeowner would be required to be present 75 percent of the time, and outside activities supervised and limited to the back yard, which must be fenced.

Council members Lars Baker, Eric Heiser Warpness and Diana Mahoney voted in favor of the ordinance with council members Todd Smith, Mary Ellen Christensen and Gard voting against. The motion carried 4-3.

Another ordinance, No. 12-015, amending the use of language for family child care homes to comply with state statutes regarding 10 children was passed on first reading, with council members Mahoney, Baker, Heiser and Warpness voting in favor.

Gard, Christensen and Smith voted against the ordinance, allowing the motion to carry.

The meeting concluded with Gard asking if he could create an ordinance to be placed on a future agenda item to discuss spot zoning for the four day care addresses in zone A.

"If we spot zone those four addresses and allow them to have day care, then we allow those four businesses to stay in business," Gard said. "We have to be specific to those four wanting to operate that they are the only ones allowed in that zone."

Weaver said spot zoning would require someone to come in and change the zoning, but it might work to allow the four day cares to run their businesses.

Gard made a motion for spot zoning to be placed on the agenda for the next council meeting July 31, allowing the four addresses to operate. Upon termination of their day care use, the zone returns to zone A.

Council members Heiser, Christensen, Gard and Smith voted in favor of the motion, with Baker and Warpness opposed.

Councilwoman Diana Mahoney who had been present via telephone had already ended the phone call when the last motion was made.

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Riverton City Council