Soldotna resident Robyn Schneider has been trying to get a conditional use permit from the city to open a daycare facility since July 6. Throughout the process members from the public expressed extreme responses of both support and opposition.
Schneider said opening the daycare is a dream of hers. She started with a mountain of standards to meet, which she said she was able to reduce down to five requirements and then only one. Now she has one final hurdle, which may be impossible to overcome.
The Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission denied her application. Schneider filed for an appeal. The proposal then went before the Soldotna City Council on Sept. 16. The council chose to send the appeal back to the commission for a remand hearing.
Schneider’s application was again denied at a special planning and zoning commission meeting on Oct. 28. The daycare, to be called Schneider’s Nest, would be at the home she shares with her husband and eight children located at 104 North Kobuk Street.
Between the steady schedules of public hearings, Schneider used the last four months to alter her property to meet city requirements and obtained a state certification through Thread, Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network.
Thread’s certification would license Schneider to have 12 children in her daycare facility, some of which include her own kids.
Soldotna Planning and Zoing Commission member Tom Janz voted in favor for the daycare at the special commission meeting.
“I think Mrs. Schneider did everything possible she should do,” Janz said. “She spent a lot of hours, a lot of time and she was up front as far as I can seen on all the data.”
However, Janz and the other commission members were concerned about the proximity of Schneider’s driveway to the intersection of Redoubt Avenue and Kobuk Street, which commission member Dave Hutchings said is one of the busiest in Soldotna.
“The only misgiving I have is that the driveway is 60 feet from that intersection,” Janz said. “That is the number one thing for me.”
Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson, who gardens on the property, stepped down from his seat as to support Schneider.
Shellie Croom, a single mother, attended the Oct. 28 meeting to ask the city to approve the permit. She said Soldotna needs more daycare options for working parents.
Schneider, Croom said, offered flexible pick-up and drop-off times that worked with her schedule.
“Put yourself as a parent,” Croom said. “Here is someone that is actually going to work with you and give you opportunities, and work with you on your pick up times.”
Samantha Morris, a neighbor of Schneider’s, said the daycare would make traffic congestion in the area worse, create safety issues and increase noise pollution.
At the special meeting Morris said if the commission approved the daycare, it would be against the wishes of the neighborhood.
Shelia Casey, a community member located on Schneider’s street, said she was concerned the city would be unable to enforce its own regulations on the daycare.
The Board of Adjustment required available parking, set drop-off and pick-up times to minimize the effect on residential traffic flow, limited the number of children on the property, and set an expiration date for the permit.
City Planner John Czarnezki said the city found that Schneider would be able to meet the board’s recommendations.
In addition to Ms. Schneider’s current request, the city has received six conditional use permit applications for daycares since 2008, all of which were approved, Czarnezki said.
Commission member Daniel Nelson was acting commission chair at the meeting because both chair Colleen Denbrock and vice chair Brandon Foster were not in attendance to vote at the meeting.
Schneider said she would have rescheduled had she known two votes would not be counted at the special meeting.
Nelson said the intersection was “a sticking point for the commission.”
He said while the city should be doing everything possible to accommodate local residents, the basis for a permit is based on whether or not the business is in harmony and compatible with city standards.
Nelson said he did not believe the daycare was compatible.
Schneider said during the process she felt bullied by her neighbors. She said she received an anonymous threat over the phone the she would not get approved for the permit because of her father’s political position.
Schneider’s mother Adele Bearup, and father Tom Bearup spoke in support of the daycare at the special meeting.
Tom Bearup said while he respected the commission’s choice, he did not agree with it.
Adele Bearup said she did not understand how the city had missed the point that regardless of their choice, Schneider would legally be able to babysit five additional children on her property and would not be accountable to any regulatory body.
“Now she can do what she wants,” Adele Bearup said. “I am really sad about that.”
Schneider said does not feel defeated by the final verdict. She has 14 days to appeal the decision, but is looking at other options to see which route she wants to take.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.