P&Z Commission approves permit for day care facility

After an hour in executive session and over two hours of testimony in a public hearing, the Winslow Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve a conditional use permit for the Tiny Tots Day Care Center at 221 East Lee St. The controversial measure passed four votes to two with one commissioner recusing herself.

Favoring the motion were Chairman Chip Cunningham and Commissioners Bonnie Garrett, Jim Pate and Elizabeth Gamble. Opposing were Commissioners Gordon McHood and James Weldon. Commissioner Marsha Juergens recused herself.

During the public hearing, Shawn Smith spoke in favor of the conditional use permit saying that his wife Jana and he have a license from the Arizona Department of Health Services to care for up to 10 compensated children and explained some of the operation of the facility.

Nathan Gilburt also spoke in favor of the permit saying that his children had been under Smith's care from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. and that Jana Smith provides a valuable service that makes it possible for him and his wife to be employed and continue their education.

William Richie, Jana Smith's father, said that his wife had operated this kind of a day care facility in their homes on Cherry and Wilmae for 15 years and had no complaints from neighbors.

Curtis Reich, an attorney hired by opponents of the permit, spoke in opposition and said that the issue was that the business was not proper for a home occupation and belonged in a commercial zone. He cited a number of reasons for this opinion and added that the facility had been operating without a valid license for that address.

Helen Jane Pollard, Karen Harvey, Gloria Gorham, Shirley Kelly, Marie Hanno and Marie LaMar spoke in opposition to the granting of the permit. Pollard said that the purpose of zoning was to protect single family neighborhoods. Harvey echoed that sentiment and said that she had been told by City Planner Jane Zukowski that she would be "opening a can of worms" by objecting as none of the other day care centers in town had applied for conditional use permits.

Kelly said that she appreciated Smith's meeting with neighbors and thought that the city had not handled the situation well. She said that of 19 families in the area who had contacted the city only four had children.

LaMar read letters from a number of other residents who oppose the permit but were not able to attend the meeting, then voiced her own opposition.

Jana Smith said that she had sent letters out to the neighbors and asked if any who had expressed concern about noise had actually been bothered by noise. She also spoke in attempt to alleviate some other concerns.

Smith said that children have been getting quality care and that she has voluntarily submitted to inspections and monitoring from the state beyond what is required. She asked that she be allowed to continue her business and provide needed child care service.

City Attorney Dale Patton asked if she would accept a proposal limiting the number of children she could care for at any one time to less than the 15 imposed by state regulations. She said she had never had more than 10 and would accept that limitation.

Commissioner McHood asked if it was true when her husband had said that there were no "troubled teens" in the facility. She said there were none and that the oldest child in her care was eight years old.

Zukowski informed the commission that she had been given petitions by Smith signed by 54 people who use other day care facilities asking that the commission consider the disservice it would be doing to the community if the permit application was denied.

Reich said that his clients were not opposed to a day care center but would like the number of children involved for compensation limited further to five.

Cunningham asked Smith if that were acceptable and she said that she has eight in the morning but would accept that limit for other times. She said that she would be agreeable to limiting the number of compensated children to five at all times other than from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Commissioner Garrett asked how many of that eight went to school and Smith answered that four do.

After a roughly one half hour break to poll opponents of the measure on an acceptable number of children for them, Cunningham asked Smith if she would accept a limit of five at all times. She said that was not acceptable but that eight was.

Commissioner Gamble then moved to approve the conditional use permit and accept the findings that it met the requirements for such a permit. Cunningham asked that the pick up and drop off of children occur on Winslow Avenue and Garrett asked that parking also be on Winslow. Both suggestions were incorporated into the motion which then passed.

In earlier business, the commission had accepted a proposal to remove the Special Development Overlay and legend from the city's zoning map.

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