MONTROSE – The City of Montrose has a shortage of professionally licensed childcare facilities, but new zoning changes could benefit young professionals and working families by allowing them greater access to nearby child-care centers.
Striking a balance between child-care providers and neighboring property owners, however, is a challenge.
The Montrose City Council recently amended and approved a new ordinance allowing child-care providers to apply for conditional use permits to open new daycare centers within the city's three medical-residential districts.
The change could allow child-care facilities to open in other areas of downtown – near Colorado Mesa University, for example.
Council originally passed the ordinance on first reading in early January, acknowledging the 51-acre area around Montrose Memorial Hospital as one of the largest employment centers within the city (in addition to MMH, it’s home to dozens of medical clinics and specialists' offices).
"It makes sense to have these types of facilities located in this area," said Community Development Director Kerwin Jensen.
The city sent letters to 178 residents and property owners located in or bordering the MMH medical-residential zone, soliciting feedback, and received five letters voicing concern that child-care centers would increase traffic and noise, while decreasing property values.
At the Jan. 21 city council meeting, attorney David Reed, a downtown resident, told council Montrose has just three licensed facilities in Montrose that can accept infants and toddlers, and that the waiting lists are too long.
"Compare that to Durango," said Reed. "Durango has 30 facilities, and is a community of size comparable to us. That tells you that we are not accommodating the needs of working families.
Colorado’s Department of Child Care Licensing lists Passage Charter, Hug-a-Bear and Bright Beginnings as the only facilities in Montrose licensed to accept infants and toddlers.
Passage Charter, open just nine months out of the year, can handle 20, Hug-a-Bear 10, and the largest, Bright Beginnings, can handle 27. Bright Beginnings has a long waiting list, and it can take months before the facility can accept new children.
According to Bright Beginnings founder Amber Gardner, “There is huge community need" for childcare facilities in Montrose, and “zoning makes it more difficult” to expand her business to meet that need.
She is opposed, nonetheless, to a use-by-right ordinance, and favors a conditional use permit as the best way for the city, residents and property owners to come together and solve the problem. The goal, she says, is to find a location will not have a significant negative impact on neighbors. Under a use-by-right permit, a childcare provider could convert a home or office in the medical-residential district into a childcare facility, so long as it meets all state codes, without a public hearing.
Council ultimately passed the ordinance at its Jan. 21 meeting with a provision requiring child-care centers to obtain conditional use permits before opening.
Jensen said the process now requires a determination by the city planning commission that a conditional use permit is "best for the neighborhood" in which it will operate. that review process takes four to six weeks, and those owning property within 100 feet of a proposed child-care facility are noticed about its public hearing.