Council rejects day care ordinance
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
A proposed ordinance aimed at increasing the number of children allowed in a home day care from six to12 was rejected by the Hartselle City Council at its regular meeting Oct. 11.
All four council members present voted against the measure. Council President Kenny Thompson was not in attendance and President Pro Tem Mark Mizell chaired the meeting.
Prior to a public hearing, City Attorney Larry Madison reminded the council that the proposed zoning change had citywide application. Later, he told them that the Board of Zoning adjustment would not have sufficient reason to deny an application for a home day care based on opposition from neighbors. He said it would have to have a "compelling reason" for denial.
Ten persons spoke either for or against the proposal during a public hearing.
Sissy Pearson, a resident of 602 Mohawk Street and a mother of three children, said she and her neighbors fear that opening up home day cares to more than six children would lead to unwelcome traffic and noise in otherwise quiet neighborhoods.
"This ordinance would allow other home occupation day cares to operate in the same neighborhood with existing ones. We don't know what the future may hold because this has citywide application. We feel that parents have a lot of options available to them without having to go to this," she pointed out.
Guy Brown, who identified himself as a real estate appraiser with 40 years of experience, said bigger home day cares would have a negative effect on property values.
"I feel group day care homes (those with as many as 12 children) would be better suited for commercial-zoned districts," he stated.
Jonathan Mayer questioned the purpose of a public hearing.
"I read in a newspaper earlier today that regardless of the public hearing the proposal will be denied. Before then I was under the impression that you would listen to the public and then decide how to vote," he stated.
John and Connie Holladay of 616 Fairlane Drive said they prefer a home day care for their child because of a bad experience they had with a commercial day care center.
"We live in a neighborhood with a home day care and you can't tell it's there. I can't see where two or three more cars a day would create a problem.
"It's your challenge to come up with a method that will satisfy both the needs of parents who prefer a home day care or a commercial day care for their children." John Holladay stated.
Fran Clampett, a career day care provider from Madison, said the bottom line for day care is parents ought to have a right to choose where they want to place their children.
"A neighborhood is about family and children and where there's children there's going to be noise and traffic. I have been down this same road with the Madison City Council. If you'll get out there and see what's going on you'll know where childrens' needs are. I'm appalled that you decided against this before you voted," she stated.
Marge Peterson, a licensed home day care operator who has supported the zoning ordinance change from its inception, said parents no longer have a choice about where to place their children for day care because there is no space available.
"I have six children and that's all I'm allowed to keep," she stated. "The waiting list is long. It takes up to six months to get in. We have five other home day cares in town and they're in the same boat I'm in."
"We need to look at what the current child care needs are," she added. "By not passing this ordinance, you'll be taking away the right of parents to choose where they want to place their children for day care.
"I beg you to rethink your decision if it's a no vote."
Day care center owner Sybil Culbertson said, "We are set up the way a day care center should be. No one can give more attention to the child than we can."
"This is not an issue of what's better, commercial or home day care," stated Linda Sandlin of Huntsville, executive director of Helping Hands in Alabama. "It's about giving parents a choice. They should be able to choose who will take care of their children until they reach school age."
"We've gone far afield on this issue," said Fay McCurley, a resident of 1111 Mason Drive. "Zoning should protect property values. There is another option: parents can choose to hire someone to come into the home to keep their children. I've been in business. If you run a business, do it in a business zone."
The proposed zoning change failed to win approval when it was considered by the Hartselle Planning Commission. It was passed on to the council without a recommendation on a vote of 3-3-1.