Child-care home, city at odds

Kathy Scrivner has been licensed by the State of Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to provide care for up to 12 children in her home in Azlewood since 2009.

But recently when she handed out flyers advertising her child-care services, she was contacted by the code enforcement officer at the City of Azle.

Scrivner says she was surprised when she was told her business was operating in violation of a zoning ordinance that specifically disallows such an operation within a single family zoning district.

Currently the ordinance defines a day care as a facility licensed by the State of Texas for child or adult care.

However, because the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission was literally in the course of revising the zoning ordinance, Greg Mitchell, development director for the city, says the city gave her a rare opportunity.

“Had the P&Z not been working on revisions to the zoning ordinance, we would have begun working with her (Scrivner) on a solution to close the operation in her home,” Mitchell said. “Instead, we told her we wouldn’t take any action until the revised ordinance is approved. That not only gives her some time to figure out what she wants to do, but it also gives her the opportunity to appeal directly to the P&Z board to see if they will revise the ordinance to include her operation.”

Mitchell explained that almost any resident is allowed to keep up to four children in their home at a given time.

The problem arises when someone such as Scrivner begins to keep five or more children in their home, triggering the need for licensure by the state.

“It’s the very fact that her operation is licensed by the state that puts her in violation of our ordinance,” Mitchell said. “Businesses of any kind are not allowed to operate in single family zoning districts, and that’s largely because people living in residential neighborhoods don’t want the added vehicular traffic a business brings.”

Scrivner, though, disagrees. She says she believes she provides a much-needed service and one that is beneficial to her neighborhood.

She also says she doesn’t think Mitchell understands the difference between a day care center and a child-care home as DFPS defines them.

“We’ve met all the requirements and the state has given us a license to operate in our home,” Scrivner said. “Other cities allow child care homes in residential areas, and I just don’t understand why Azle can’t do the same.”

In fact, Mitchell surveyed several nearby cities to see what other burgs were doing about child-care homes. When he checked with 10 area cities, he found that the Lake Worth, Saginaw, Weatherford, Hurst, North Richland Hills, and Benbrook prohibit child-care homes in single family zoning districts, as Azle does.

The cities of Denton, Keller, Watauga, and Haltom City, though, do allow for such homes to apply for a Special Use Permit in order to operate in a residential neighborhood.

Marissa Gonzalez with DFPS said when someone applies to become a licensed child-care home or a licensed day care center, they have to show they meet the minimum standards outlined by the agency in order to become licensed.

“They would also have to meet any zoning requirements, building codes, and homeowners association requirements, but we (DFPS) have nothing to do with that,” Gonzalez said. “These are completely separate issues.”

A check at the DFPS website reveals 11 licensed child-care program centers are located within the 76020 zip code. There are also three licensed before- and after-school program centers.

Scrivner’s day care, Ms. Kathy’s Learning Center, is the only licensed child-care home located in the 76020 zip code, according to the web site.

Scrivner has attended two P&Z public hearings to address the ordinance. The P&Z board will meet again Thursday evening, April 4, and Mitchell said he anticipates the board will make a recommendation at that time to the city council on the revised ordinance.

“I really have no idea what they will decide to do,” Mitchell said. “They are trying to find a way to work with Ms. Scrivner, but the fact is that if we allow it for one person, we have to allow it for everyone, and that makes it difficult.”

A work session is also scheduled with the city council April 16 with a final public hearing on the revised ordinance slated for May 7.