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Planning Board split over childcare by-law

Date: 4/2/2012

April 2, 2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — In a split decision following a March 27 public hearing, the Planning Board decided not to recommend a warrant article calling for an additional definition in the residential child care by-law that would allow a child care provider to host up to 10 children at one time.

Currently residential day care providers can only have a maximum of six children in their care at one time.

Jane Rivera and Bella Andrukonis presented an amended version of their first pitch, which would have re-written the current by-law. Rivera and Andrukonis made concessions, including removing a request to make a day care an as-of-right use of residential property, as opposed to one that falls under special permit restrictions. They also included the word "large" to differentiate between day cares that serve six or fewer children and those that serve up to 10.

Planning Board Chair Peter Punderson, as well as board members George Kingston and Michael Carabetta voted against the recommendation while Alessandro Meccia and Michael Przybylowicz voted in favor of it.

"For every home day care, there are eight direct abutters who are affected. Home day care is a wonderful thing when it's kept under control and there's no nuisance," Kingston said. "There's eight residences, each of which has a family in it that potentially could be affected by a change like this. It's not just the parking. It's the noise; it's the toys in the yard, which we've heard from people about.

"I have to think about those eight neighbors as well as about the person who is trying to put together a financially viable business by taking care of kids and for that reason I cannot support this," he continued.

Punderson added that because East Longmeadow has by-laws preventing businesses from running in residential neighborhoods and that because in certain cases involving the care of more than six children, the state requires the employment of a certified assistant, it would violate those by-laws. He also stated that it was his intention to continue to protect the residential district.

"The by-laws have served the town well. The town is desirable to live in. People seek out East Longmeadow. There's a fantastic school system, wonderful people and all the things that people like to avail themselves," Punderson said. "There's reasons for it — because we protect the residential neighborhoods. We keep them like they're supposed to be.

"As the law is written, the number of children being limited to six has had no negative impact on the neighborhoods. It's well-defined. It doesn't leave any loopholes open or have any opportunities for other businesses to say, 'Well, you're doing it, I want to do it.' My thinking is that number one, we are going to be making it possible to break the by-laws," he continued.

Carabetta said he was not opposed of the possibility of expanding home day cares, but said he could not support the by-law change as it is presently constituted.

Meccia said he believed there would be no adverse effects from the passage of the by-law amendment.

"I've been around some of these [residential day cares] and I didn't even know they were there," he said. "I've been in these neighborhoods for 10, 15 years and I've never, ever seen anybody. I know where most of them are now and I would have never thought they were there."

Meccia added that the state's stringent regulation of day cares would help prevent any problems and also pointed out that because of square footage per child requirements, many residential day cares would not qualify by state standards for the care of up to 10 children.

"The state has the final say in everything," he said. "It's pretty straightforward. If the state doesn't allow it, we're not going to allow it."

Przybylowicz, speaking from the experience of someone whose wife previously ran a residential day care, said this method of child care is a benefit to the community and said he "doesn't see the harm" in recommending the change.

Rivera pointed out that the strains on residential day care providers from the state make it especially important that some be able to expand to serve more children.

"If anything you're going to be seeing [residential] day care diminishing in the state of Massachusetts. You will soon have to have a bachelor's degree to even open a home day care," she said.

Andrukonis brought up a question raised at a previous meeting about the safety of 10 children at one day care, stating that the requirement of a certified assistant actually makes for a safer environment.

"I think that two adults to 10 children is a better ratio than one adult to six [children]," she said.

Andrukonis also stated that limiting the number of children to six limits the amount of income day care providers could bring in for their families.

"I think there are a lot of family day care providers that are the main bread-winners and they really might need to be licensed for more than six [children] to make ends meet," she said.

A number of parents and day care providers spoke in favor of the by-law change at the public hearing. Resident Jennifer Law said the town's restrictions make reasonably priced child care options harder to find.

"I have two kids and it is very difficult to find quality, affordable home day care because people are limited," she said. "It makes, when you have a second child, especially an infant, finding that care next to impossible."

However, resident Cecilia White raised concerns about additional traffic and noise.

"Additional by-laws recently were put into affect regarding home-based businesses because these businesses were adversely affecting their neighbors," she said. "I feel a home-based 10-child day care business would be very noisy five to seven days a week and the additional traffic to drop off and pick up these children is an unfair burden to the surrounding homeowners."

Ralph Page, who is running for the Planning Board, said he was also in favor of the by-law change as long as special permitting was required and that noise and traffic concerns were overstated.

"I've had the pleasure of dealing with some [day care providers] doing work at their house and had no clue they were running a day care," he said. "I worked at one lady's house for six weeks and at no time did I know she was running a day care. It was a professional, top quality operation."

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