As a Moab couple appeal the city council’s 2014 decision to reject their application for a bed-and-breakfast business, they’re pursuing plans to move their existing day-care center into the same space.
Mary and Jeramey McElhaney are asking the Moab City Planning Commission to approve a recommendation that asks the city council for a conditional use permit to operate Bright Days Childcare at 100 Arches Drive. However, the commission voted 4-0 on Thursday, Jan. 14, to table consideration of the request until its next meeting.
Planning commission member Wayne Hoskisson said he would like to take the extra time to study an additional analysis of the proposal, as well as comments from the community.
“We didn’t have a chance to see those tonight,” he said. “I don’t know that it will change my mind, but I would like to see all of that before I make a decision.”
Mary McElhaney, who also goes by Meredith, said she and her husband are still waiting for a district court judge to rule on their appeal of the council’s 3-1 decision in November 2014 against their bed-and-breakfast application.
“In the meantime, I still have to keep operating the day care for a paycheck,” she said. “I would like to do that at the new location.”
The couple have racked up considerable expenses to build their new house, and McElhaney said they were anticipating last week’s public hearing for months now.
“Since October, we’ve had ‘his and hers’ mortgage payments,” she said. “It’s cute, but it’s getting old.”
But Arches Drive resident Bonnie Carson urged the planning commission to hold off on any action for the time being.
Carson said she thinks it would be premature and inappropriate for the board to make any recommendations until Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson renders a decision on the McElhaneys’ appeal in the B&B case.
Carson said she received no written notification of the planning commission’s public hearing on the day-care proposal. Among other concerns, she said police records will show that authorities responded to a traffic-related call on the cul-de-sac.
“It was the direct result of a day-care parent speeding and creating unsafe conditions for a pedestrian on Arches Drive,” she said. “This has happened more than one time.”
Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart said his office hasn’t heard formal concerns regarding Bright Days in the 7.5 years it has been operating near the end of the cul-de-sac at 95 Arches Drive
“We have not received any complaints about this day care, so we don’t see where this is an impact, at least as far as that goes,” Reinhart said.
If approved, the in-home day-care center could serve up to 16 children, although Reinhart said the average is more likely to be around eight or nine kids. However, that number may fluctuate, depending on the time of year, he said.
By Reinhart’s estimates, an average single-family home generates a maximum of nine to 12 vehicle trips per day – a figure that exceeds current traffic patterns on Arches Drive, he said.
“We’re not seeing that in this neighborhood with the day care operating,” he said.
Moab City Engineer Philip Bowman said he can’t speak to the exact numbers, but he said that current traffic counts on the cul-de-sac are “nowhere near” close to capacity, which is in the range of 800 and 1,000 daily vehicle trips per lane.
“The trip counts in this area all seem very reasonable,” Bowman said. “They do not seem excessive or out of line for what we have up there.”
Former Moab Realtor Kris Hurlburt said she knows that there’s a need for day-care services in the community. But she asked city officials to clarify whether a decision to approve the conditional use permit could ultimately allow two day-care centers to operate on Arches Drive.
Mary McElhaney said that could conceivably happen if she sells their home at 95 Arches Drive, and the new owner takes it upon herself or himself to apply for a new permit.
“I think it’s 100 percent possible if somebody purchased my house from me and goes through this same process to start their own day care,” she said.
But McElhaney said she believes there’s a misunderstanding about the state’s day-care licensing procedures. The couple are only seeking the conditional use permit, she said, because they want to live in the new home.
“It has to be your primary residence,” she said. “It is physically impossible for me to own two day cares anywhere.”
As city officials review the proposal, Reinhart said it’s important to consider just how essential affordable day-care services are to the community – especially among households where both parents are wage-earners.
Fellow day-care provider Tami Woodruff spoke along similar lines, urging the community to support those who want to help other parents care for their children. She reiterated that the couple are not trying to operate two day-care facilities at the same time.
“I think there’s some confusion as to two day cares being open,” she said. “It’s not that Mary is trying to open two day cares; she’s just trying to move one from the old house to the new house.”
Hoskisson said it’s “kind of” hard for him to say that the proposal would have different or new impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s not as though we’re adding something new,” he said.
Planning commission chair Jeanette Kopell said she believes that residents want to talk about two different subjects – the B&B appeal and the day-care proposal – when her board is only focused on one issue.
“What’s happening, I think, is people are totally blowing everything out of proportion,” she said.
Moving forward, she said, the board must examine the facts surrounding the latest application.
“We as a planning commission look at what’s in black and white,” she said. “We don’t look at how we feel about stuff. We have to look at the black and white … I can’t as a planning commission person say, ‘I don’t like this.’”
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