In February, after neighbors in the Noview Avenue area protested putting Smallpond Childcare on their street, the Homer Advisory Planning Commission fell a vote short of approving a conditional use permit, CUP, needed to build.
The commission voted 4-2, with commissioners Roberta Highland and Franco Venuti opposing, but under its rules then needed five votes to approve a CUP. The threshold has since been changed to four votes.
Last week, with a new property on East End Road across from Mattox Street, its closest neighbors didn’t utter a peep of protest when Smallpond filed for another CUP. Perhaps that’s because they’re some of Homer’s first settlers buried in Pioneer’s Cemetery, a historic cemetery between the new Smallpond building and the road. Nearby living residents also didn’t object and the CUP passed unanimously. Smallpond parents showed up in support of the CUP.
“It’s quiet. The neighbors won’t be bothered by young children,” said Susannah Webster, owner and director of the 12-child group daycare facility. “It’s a beautiful irony.”
After the planning commission rejected its Noview Avenue proposal, Webster started looking for another site. Her purchase had been contingent on CUP approval. Webster purchased the Dierich house, a 1950s era structure on a 1.25-acre lot behind the cemetery. A driveway loops around the cemetery to access the house, but because one leg is on another lot, Smallpond will not use that section. With a large lawn, trees and plenty of parking, it’s accessible to families with children at the daycare home.
“I can give Franco Venuti and Roberta Highland full credit for us finding this,” Webster said of the two commissioners who voted against the Noview Avenue proposal.
“It’s a beautiful place,” she said
City planners suggested several conditions for a CUP, and the commission accepted the findings and those conditions. Smallpond will have to build a fenced area, something Webster said she planned to do anyway. It also has to hook up to city water and sewer. A shed that encroaches on the 5-foot setback will either have to be taken down or moved.
Webster said the new site meets some of the issues Noview Avenue neighbors raised against that site: lot size, parking and traffic. The new site is zoned commercial-residential. Its closest neighbor is Lisa Ann’s Grooming, a pet care business.
“It was clear the zoning was appropriate, the lot was appropriate. The neighboring properties — there was no opposition,” she said.
Smallpond is now in two buildings on Hohe Street and licensed as two, 12-child group homes. Because it’s going into one building, under state daycare licensing rules, as a daycare group home it can have a maximum of 12 children per day and will have to cut the number of students it can take. Webster said students currently enrolled in the summer program will have spots in the fall. To expand further it would have to be licensed as a daycare center, with stricter licensing, such as having a Department of Environmental Conservation approved kitchen.
Webster has already had talks with her students about the new building and its location next to the cemetery. That opens up discussions about birth, aging and death.
“We’re talking about special places to love people who aren’t alive anymore,” she said. “It’s an important conversation, especially for young children. They’re fascinated by it.”
Now that it has its CUP, Smallpond will start doing interior repairs and remodeling. It has to bring the house up to code and also get fire marshal approval. Webster said she expects to open by September.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.