Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Daycare Operator Seeks Use Variance

On September 10, 2007, the Planning Commission heard a request for a variance from the city’s land use code entered on behalf of two childcare operations—Dee’s Little Darlin’s daycare and High Achievers preschool—on South Stull Street. Dee Harlow, the founder, runs both operations from two adjacent properties in this core residential neighborhood. She added a second story to one house under a residential permit last year in preparation for creating the preschool and adding clients. She resides in neither house.

This is at the heart of the land use issue, because City ordnances allow home-based daycare operators to care for a maximum of 16 children. Commercial daycare operators have no residency requirements and no specific maximum—but must be situated in a place that is zoned commercial. If the residency requirement were upheld, Harlow would be limited to providing care for 32 children. If the variance were granted, removing the 32-child limit, the properties would be re-zoned commercial in perpetuity, because the variance attaches to the property deed.

Jan Sorby, president of the Bryan Park Neighborhood Association, spoke against granting the variance because of the impact that increased traffic and inadequate parking would have on neighbors. Like other neighborhood residents who spoke at the hearing, Sorby expressed concern that uncertainty over future commercial uses would lower property values.

“Core neighborhoods are especially susceptible to inappropriate land use because we don’t have sub-division covenants that protect us. We must rely on the enforcement of Bloomington laws for our protection. Disregarding this law essentially encourages spot zoning,” Sorby said. “In particular, this area is one of the last remaining affordable housing areas in a core neighborhood and needs protection for that reason. The City’s Unified Development Ordnance (UDO) explicitly ‘discourag[es] the conversion of dwellings to multifamily or commercial uses.’”

There is no question of closing down the childcare operations, just of the enrollment limit and bringing the properties into compliance with requirements (for example, for sidewalks and fire sprinklers). The childcare and preschool have a good reputation, and everybody involved in the hearings—from parents in daycare to the BPNA and the City Council—heartily endorsed the value of the service that Harlow provides. The variance request will go before the Bloomington Zoning Authority (BZA) on October 18, at 5:30 pm in the Showers Building. Everyone is invited to attend and to provide their own perspective on the land use issue.

From BPNA Neighborhood News, published October 2007