A teary-eyed Andy had just "banged" his finger when he ran into Jeb, and he wanted one of those Snoopy Band-Aids to cure the wound. Another of Matthew's front teeth had fallen out, and he wrapped it in a napkin for the tooth fairy. Tommy, meanwhile, plunk, plunk, plunked on the piano the first five bars -- all he knows -- of "Sunrise, Sunset."
It would have been a typical day at Judith Heintz's house, which doubles as The Shoe, a popular day-care center for the children of the many divorced parents in her Chevy Chase neighborhood. But yesterday the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment voted to close her down after one of her neighbors complained that The Shoe violated a 1925 housing covenant prohibiting the use of a residence for a business.
Heintz, the mother of four and a former employe of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has been ordered to close the three-year-old center by Friday or face fines and criminal prosecution.
The order has caused an uproar in this well-trimmed neighborhood of $140,000 brick-and-stone homes on McKinley Street NW, where many young mothers said a residential neighborhood is just the place for a child-care center. A 56-year-old covenant, which sanctions "stables" and "carriage houses" within that same neighborhood should not define modern life, they said.
"If I don't have day care, I can't work. I'm single parent. I have a daughter and a foster daughter to support. I have to work, I'm it," said a distraught Salley Barton, a writer who covers Congress for a number of health and nursing magazines. "This is the best day-care situation I've ever had . . . I'm just devastated by
Besides its nearness to the youngsters' own homes, The Shoe was more than a baby-sitting service, Barton and other parents said.
The center is decorated with photos of the children and their own drawings of shoes. There were Monopoly games and Star Wars toys, and the youngsters could take piano lessons, watch chickens hatch, and hear a lecture on safety from a D.C. policeman.
"If this situation is allowed to exist in the District, then I've had it. This is enough to push me to move to Maryland," said Barton, whose daughter Jessica, 7, attends the center. "There's such a dearth of good day care and to think the District has spent so much time and money on what is basically an absurd case."
The problems started a year ago, when a housing inspector showed up asking questions about the center, Heintz said. An inspector informed her she would need to have a special occupancy permit from the city and make several thousand dollars in improvements to her home to continue the center, she said.
Heintz and her lawyer said they don't know for sure who sent the housing inspector. But Heintz and her husband made the repairs and applied for a zoning exception on the grounds that the center, with its bicycles and rocking horse and monkey bars in the back yard, was not "an undue burden" on the neighborhood.
For her side Heintz, who cares for 12 children at her center, submitted 50 letters of support from various neighbors, psychologists and psychiatrists. The principal of Murch Elementary School, which most of her children attend, also wrote letters of support.
On the other side was Max Barth, a retired architect, who said the noise from the children and especially the barking of the Heintz dog when it played with the youngsters were a "nuisance." The 1925 covenant, which Barth said he uncovered in city records, prohibits "nuisances" in residential neighborhoods.
An angry Heint charged, however, that Barth wanted the center closed because she frequently takes black, Hispanic and handicapped children into her day-care center. Two of her adopted children are black and one of them is handicapped.
Barth and his wife, Sarah, dismissed the charge as "ridiculous."
"We're not mad at Mrs. Heintz; we're not mad at the children," Barth said. "We're just trying to preserve the neighborhood."