Board says day care issue needs more study

Community activists oppose plan to ease county requirements

January 11, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Planning Board is considering making it easier to set up day care centers in residential neighborhoods.

But it might be a while.

In a move involving an issue that has struck a nerve with community activists, the board has decided it needs additional information before it opens the door to more day care centers in residential neighborhoods.

The board decision Thursdaycame after Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller told board members that day care in residential neighborhoods -- the subject of a 22-page planning report calling for relaxed restrictions -- needs more study.

Community activists praised the board decision, saying group day care operations should not be allowed to expand into more residential neighborhoods.

"What you're looking at, in a nutshell, is allowing what is a commercial operation in a residential area," said Louis W. Miller of the Greater Timonium Community Council.

The planning report was prompted by a 1997 County Council resolution sponsored by Perry Hall Democrat Vincent J. Gardina, after a constituent with less than an acre of land was denied permission to expand a day care operation.

Gardina asked the Planning Board to look at the zoning regulations "to see if there should be some middle ground."

Gardina said last week that he supported the board's deferral of its decision.

"I don't think day care centers should be expanded in residential areas either," Gardina said. "I think the intentions of the planning department were good, but I can't see allowing what's basically a commercial operation to expand into these neighborhoods."

The county has more than 300 group child care centers operating in churches, schools and other institutions and 1,600 based in private homes, according to the planning report.

The planning report says the 29,777 licensed child care slots in the county probably are adequate to meet the demand, but that some neighborhoods might need more child care facilities and that a countywide shortage of infant and toddler care facilities exists.

A group day care center with nine or more children must have at least an acre in a residential neighborhood, unless the center is in a church, school building or other institution. It also must have fences and other buffers between it and surrounding houses.

A family child care home with eight children or fewer is permitted in all zones as long as a child care provider is not next door.

The proposed changes would have allowed a group day care center with nine to 20 children to operate from the owner's home with less land, provided the owner obtains a permit from the county.

On Thursday, the Planning Board agreed to set up a committee to review citizen input and report back to the board. The committee probably will be set up early next month, said Albert R. Svehla, a county planner.

"We've got some work to do, we'll be sitting down with the Planning Board, members of the community and the day care industry and try to hammer out a solution," Svehla said.

The committee's recommendations will be the focus of a public hearing, probably in March or April, he said.

The Planning Board then will vote on the recommendations and send them to the County Council, which will either reject them or vote to make them part of the county zoning codes, Svehla said.

Miller said that zoning codes regulating day care centers, adopted in 1990, are more than sufficient.

"We feel that it's the old story, if it ain't broke don't fix it," he said.

Pub Date: 1/11/99

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