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Council OKs day cares in residential zone A

Council OKs day cares in residential zone A with 4-3 vote

Aug 8, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

The Riverton City Council has passed on second reading an ordinance that would allow family childcare homes for up to 10 children in residential zone A.

The 4-3 vote came after city staff informed council members it was the recommendation of the city attorney, city staff, and the planning commission to allow the day cares, pending council approval of the licenses that are renewed annually.

City administrator Steven Weaver said passing the ordinance would solidify what has been the past practice in the city for the last 20 years.

"Home occupations are still allowed in zone A," Weaver said. "With the passing of this ordinance council members would not be changing anything, because home occupations are already allowed in these zones."

Controversy concerning day care facilities surfaced June 19, when council members denied approval for a new 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.

When five protests were filed against the applicant's request for a day care, 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.

Councilman Todd Smith said he spoke with many residents who live in the Logan Park neighborhood. He said 90 percent do not want the area to be rezoned.

"The vast majority would say don't rezone, and find a way to keep the two existing businesses open," Smith said. "I think citizens in that area have been really clear with what they don't want, and my opinion is we as a council need to listen to them."

Councilman Richard Gard said zoning has a purpose, and if no one wants to uphold the purpose, then the city needs to do away with zoning.

"I have already given my opinion of where I am at with this issue," Gard said. "We get the feeling that making this change doesn't really affect anyone but those who purchased the property in zone A believing they were purchasing it in a zone that does not allow day care."

Mayor Ron Warpness said he wanted to open the floor for public discussion from someone in favor of the zone change and someone against.

"I think at this point we have already heard what everyone has to say on this issue," Warpness said. "It would be beneficial to have a spokesperson representing each side of the issue."

Gary Hatle said he lives at 107 Big Horn and likes kids but didn't know if day care was appropriate in the area.

"I have thought a lot about this issue," Hatle said. "I decided to break it down into four questions to ask the council."

Hatle asked council members various questions of how many operating day cares existed in residential A, how many children are in those facilities, how many parties are applying for day care licenses, and┬why the council and mayor were wanting to add family child care in residential A.

Weaver answered Hatle's questions, telling him there were two day cares in residential A, eight children in the facilities, and a total of four parties applying for the day care licenses.

Randy Hague said he lived with a day care right behind his house and one directly across the street.

"I have never had a problem with noise, kids climbing trees, or traffic," Hague said. "If you didn't know there was a day care center operating, you would have no idea of what was going on.

"You want to be home with your kids, but sometimes you can't. Day care facilities provide a valuable asset to this community."

Councilman Lars Baker said he kept going back and forth with the issue, hearing comments from residents to forget about everything, don't change zone A, and continue moving forward with ignoring the zones.

"If we follow that, we are accepting the belief that zoning means nothing," Baker said. "I think I am in favor of the rule of law, yet I am not opposed to the two day cares that are currently functioning. I am not sure I am opposed to additional day cares that are approved beyond that point. It doesn't seem like to me you can have a middle ground on this."

Baker said he thought this was the difference between a dilemma and a conundrum.

"A dilemma is a problem offering two possibilities," Baker said. "A conundrum is a confusing and difficult problem. I don't know how to reconcile except to say by the rule of law that the city of Riverton will allow family child care homes on a special permit basis."

Warpness said council members are trying to be as up-front and transparent as possible.

"This has caused me a lot of heartburn," Warpness said. "We as a council don't want to go against the people. I don't think any of us are taking this lightly."

Council members voted down 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.

Councilwoman Diana Mahoney, Baker, Councilman Eric Heiser, and Warpness voted to pass on second reading ordinance No. 12-015 amending the use of language for family child care homes to comply with state statutes regarding 10 children.

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen, Smith, and Gard voted against the ordinance that will be up for third and final reading Aug. 21, 2012.

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