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Council to grapple with approval of conditional use permit for home-day care in residential subdivision

The St. Charles County Council is faced with a decision on a conditional use permit to allow a home-based day care facility. That decision may have implications for other similar day care facilities in residential areas.

At their Aug. 8 meeting, council members heard from parents who use the center at 12 Brunswick Hall Court in the Briargate Estates subdivision and nearby residents who said they are worried that the center may pose safety issues and affect their property values.

The property owner and day-care provider, April Robison, has been operating the home care service, which now has eight children, for about two and a half years. The facility is licensed for up to 10 children by the state of Missouri, she said. But Robison did not obtain a conditional use permit from the county, which is required if a facility cares for more than four preschool children.

The council made no decision on the permit at the meeting. Their next meeting is scheduled for Aug.29.  The county’s planning and zoning commission voted 7-3 at their July 20 meeting recommending the permit, suggesting limiting children at the facility to eight.

The county’s planning staff recommended denial, saying it didn’t meet permit criteria that the daycare not negatively impact neighboring property.

Robison said the conditional use permit requirement was not readily apparent on the county’s web site.  She said she has operated her home care facility meeting all state requirements with few complaints.

One of those complaints, however, prompted calls for Robison to finally obtain the permit. Gregory Talmadge, a neighbor, said he and his wife, Connie, had bought a house nearby and had no idea that a daycare center was operating in the cul-de-sac.

Talmadge said as grandparents, they envision the cul-de-sac as a safe place because he expected few vehicles.

“With eight to 10 kids with eight to 10 parents driving in and out of the cul-de-sac every day, twice a day, it’s basically unsafe,” Talmadge said. “We thought the county ordinances protected us from commercial activity.”

Other neighbors said they weren’t aware that there were that many children at the home. Nelson Hine, another resident, said residents thought everything was legal.

“We had no problems when this was a small business, but as it has grown it has created concerned including our property values and safety,” Hine said.

But several parents said the county needed to recognize the distinction between home care and daycare provided by larger providers. Megan Wilbers, one of those parents, said Missouri, St. Louis County and other counties have specific requirements for home-based daycare facilities.

Wilbers said almost half of state licensed and larger day care providers in the county have recent violations of state standards.  She said rejection of the permit may impact more than 20 state licensed home-based day care facilities in the county, some of which may not have permits.

Home-based care often provides a more stable, cleaner environment that is more family focused where children can often bond with providers, she added.

“This is not a commercial business, if this is not passed this it will affect all of our children and families,” Wilbers said. “Please to not remove us from this family setting.”

Michael Swanson, another parent, said his research indicates that the county makes no distinction between larger day care providers and small home-based operations and parking, and other requirements place smaller home services at a disadvantage.

County Executive Steve Ehlmann asked Robison if she was asked to certify if her day care had the proper zoning when she filled out the state licensing application. Robison said that question wasn’t on the application.

“There probably should be, then we probably wouldn’t have gotten into this situation,” Ehlmann said.

Ehlmann also noted that the county can’t enforce subdivision covenants, including those that limit commercial businesses. Brad Goss, an attorney representing Talmadge, agreed, saying the subdivision covenants allow no commercial activity. He said Robison was operating a commercial business.

Goss said the issue for the county involves whether Robison can meet parking and other requirements, including adding at least one other parking space, which cannot be waived by a conditional use permit. County planning staff typically suggest home-care operations near arterial or busy streets and not in the middle of subdivisions which cause traffic problems, he said.

“Now, she [Robison] is appearing before you and saying I’ve got these eight parents who depend upon me and I’m going to use their testimony to support the continuation of this illegal activity,” Goss said.

“I’m sure she’s a fine day care provider, that’s really not the issue,” Goss said. “The issue is that it [the daycare] is not in the right place and doesn’t meet the right criteria.”

Charles Stokes, an attorney representing Robison, said the issue involves a “misunderstanding” and that Robison pointed out to county officials the conditional use permit was not readily available on their website, which was corrected.

Turning down the conditional use permit could open up “a Pandora’s box” that could hurt a lot of parents, he said.  “The county, rather than shut down these operations, should encourage them,” Stokes said.

Meanwhile, Councilman and Council Chairman Joe Cronin [District 1] agreed that the county is not enforcing the subdivision’s covenants. He also asked for a copy of Swanson’s comments and county officials to research the age of children at the home.

“We have a hard decision ahead of us,” Cronin said.

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