At Monday's City Commission Meeting, city officials deliberated the approval of a zoning regulation amendment pertaining to Group Day Care Homes.
Background: The City of Salina has been diligently working to align its local zoning regulations with the guidelines established by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). KDHE oversees sanitary and safety standards for day care facilities across the state. While local authorities maintain control over the location of day care centers, the term "group day care center" encompasses various categories, including registered day care homes, licensed day care homes, group day care homes, large-scale day care centers, and preschools.
Currently, Salina's Zoning Ordinance mandates that day care operations in residential areas must either operate within an occupied residential dwelling, with a numerical limit on the number of children, or within a nonresidential facility like a school, church, or YMCA-type building with no numerical restriction. Notable examples of the latter category include the Martin Luther King Day Care Center and the Salina YMCA day care center.
Most of the existing definitions and regulations concerning day care were put in place in 1987 as part of comprehensive zoning amendments in response to updates in KDHE's Administrative Regulations. Under these local zoning regulations, licensed day cares in single-family homes are classified as home occupations, while group day care homes requiring an outside helper are classified as conditional uses. Planning staff worked with the County Health Department to forego Home Occupation Certificate applications as long as they had an approved list of licensed day care locations.
In Salina, a Group Day Care Home is defined as an "occupied dwelling in which a person provides care for a maximum of twelve children less than 16 years of age." Establishing a Group Day Care Home in a residential neighborhood necessitates neighborhood notification, a public hearing, and approval of a Conditional Use Permit by the Planning Commission. The conditional use hearing allows neighboring property owners to be informed of the proposed use and voice their concerns. If a provider wishes to care for more than 10 children simultaneously, they must apply for a Conditional Use Permit. This step is taken to account for unique site or neighborhood conditions that might adversely affect residential neighbors. Additionally, state regulations require Group Day Care Homes to have an extra employee or helper, thereby excluding them from the category of permitted home occupations. As a result, licensed day care providers looking to transition to group day care must submit a Conditional Use Permit application and appear before the Planning Commission for zoning approval.
Notably, the Planning Commission's role is to ensure that the proposed property use aligns with Zoning Ordinance requirements and doesn't negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood.
City staff have been collaborating with representatives from the Saline County Health Department, the Salina YMCA, and the Salina United Way Child Care Initiative to address the child care shortage in Salina and eliminate barriers to expanding child care services. It's worth mentioning that several Kansas communities, including Wichita, Valley Center, and McPherson, have reclassified group day care homes from conditional uses to home occupations, eliminating the need for Conditional Use Permit applications and public hearings. While this isn't necessarily an obstacle to expanding day care capacity, the Conditional Use Permit application process incurs a time delay (30-45 days) and a fee ($175), allowing providers to care for up to 12 children at once but requiring an additional care provider, either a family member or an external assistant.
Initiating a Text Amendment: Under Kansas statutes and the City's Zoning Ordinance, amendments to zoning regulations can be initiated by the City Commission, the Planning Commission, or property owners affected by the proposed changes upon submission of an application and the requisite filing fee ($275). The proposed amendments must be advertised in the official newspaper at least 20 days before the Planning Commission's public hearing.
Following discussions with City staff, representatives of the Salina United Way Child Care Initiative explored possible amendments to Salina's Zoning Ordinance to facilitate the transition of licensed day cares to group day care homes. The proposed text amendment comprises three key components:
- Removing "group day care homes in occupied dwellings" as a listed conditional use in the city's residential districts.
- Listing family day care homes, licensed day care homes, and group day care homes with up to twelve children in an occupied dwelling as permitted home occupations that can be administratively approved by staff (with the occupancy requirement still in place if the amendment is approved).
- Replacing outdated definitions in the Zoning Ordinance with terms and definitions that align with KDHE's license categories.
Staff Comments / Analysis: While these text amendments would eliminate the public notice and public hearing requirements for group day care homes, as well as the opportunity for neighbors to provide input on changes proposed in their neighborhood, staff noted that Conditional Use Permits for Group Day Care Homes have generally been approved by the Planning Commission with minimal public comment or controversy. Staff also pointed out that the increase in the number of children cared for, from a maximum of 10 to 12, has had limited impact on neighbors or neighborhood livability. Staff believes these proposed changes would relieve current and prospective in-home day care providers of a time and financial burden by eliminating application fees and public hearing requirements for group day care homes. Moreover, it would reduce staff workload, allowing them to focus on other cases.
Planning Commission Recommendation: The Planning Commission discussed these potential amendments at their meeting on July 18, 2023, with representatives from Salina United Way and the Saline County Health Department. A formal public hearing regarding the proposed child care text amendment took place on September 5, 2023. After presenting the staff report and receiving comments from stakeholders, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to recommend the approval of the proposed zoning text amendments as drafted and presented.
The motion to approve the amendment passed with a 5-0.