A year after a Soldotna daycare was approved amid controversy and appeals to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, it came under review from the commission and passed.
Robyn Schneider was allowed to open a residential daycare on North Kobuk Street called Schneider’s Nest after the Soldotna City Council granted the appeal for a conditional use permit last December, which came with several requirements that the commission reviewed at its Wednesday meeting.
Schneider said she was happy with the review approval and plans to continue making improvements to landscaping and other aspects of the business.
“I think it went very well,” she said of the review. “It’s been a stressful year, but, you know, I’ve done everything that I could do within this year and I have plans to make it look better.”
The stipulations of the conditional use permit included that Schneider turn in a site plan, have a fire marshal inspection, obscure the outside play area from sight and not have any commercial Dumpsters on site. Additionally, she is not allowed to have a sign “indicating the presence of a daycare facility” even if allowed by the Soldotna sign ordinance, according to a memo from City Planner John Czarnezki to the commission.
The commission approved Czarnezki’s review of the business unanimously with two amended motions.
The review, originally scheduled for the commission’s March 16 meeting but postponed due to the commission not having a quorum, found that most of the conditions of the permit were being met. Since the original visit of the site by Czarnezki, the city found Schneider has been using an unlit “open” sign in a window as a way to let parents know how to find the business.
After a lengthy discussion on the city sign code’s lack of clarity when it comes to business signs in residential areas and as it relates to daycares, the commission agreed that, even though the sign did not contain the name “Schneider’s Nest,” it was indicating the presence of a daycare and was therefore not in line with the conditions.
The commission included two amendments in its approval of Schneider’s review; one instructing her to take down the sign and another stipulating that she must either stop using a utility easement on the property as a pull-through driveway for her clients, or to get written permission to do so from her neighbor. After reviewing the business, Czarnzki said there was evidence parents are swinging onto the neighbor’s side of the easement as they are pulling out.
“To avoid that utility box they have to swing a little bit wide and when they swing wide what it appears to me is that the vehicles are now leaving the applicant’s lot and entering the neighbor’s lot,” Czarnezki said. “And so it’s also led to a loss of ground cover in this area.”
After more discussion, members of the commission concluded that Schneider’s easement is for utility company access, not public access. One of the initial stipulations for Schneider’s conditional use permit is that she will have to have the parking areas paved. She still has until January 2018 to do that.
Other small issues were brought up during the review, which Schneider said she would addres. Schneider also said she had been under the impression she was only prohibited from having a sign that had her business name on it, and that she will take the “open” sign down.
One Soldotna resident, Jackie Smith, came forward to testify in opposition to the daycare, saying that although she supports home-based businesses, she does not support this particular daycare because of its location and how she said Schneider maintains it.
“Placement of a daycare so close to one of the busiest residential intersections in Soldotna is a significant risk that should have been avoided,” Smith said. “Traffic past Redwood and Kobuk, which I travel every morning between 7:30 and 8:30, is very difficult and the traffic jut one block away at Kobuk and Redoubt is even more hazardous.”
The commission told Smith she has the option after their approval of the daycare’s review to appeal it to the Soldotna City Council.
Since Czarnezki’s review visit, the city received several letters of support from parents who use the daycare as well as a neighbor.
Schneider is now in the process of taking over control of a closing daycare facility on Marydale Avenue that recently closed, she said. Its previous owner runs a daycare out of both Kenai and Soldotna, and when the Soldotna location closed it left several families without care, Schneider said.
“I felt in my heart that I couldn’t take them on in my own home because I was at my max,” she said. “So I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to jump in and see if I can, you know, do both locations,’ and everything has just panned out beautifully.”
Schneider knows the previous owner and has already acquired the business and is poised to hire staff to help her run it, she said.
“I’m happy to, you know, work with my neighbors if they have any concerns or anything like that, or anybody that has concerns,” she said of the businesses. “Bring it up to me, and I’ll adjust it.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.