Prince George's County planners recommended denial of a proposed day-care center in a residential neighborhood after the staff determined that the center would be commercial and have an adverse impact on the neighbors.
However, an attorney for the applicants criticized the staff report this week, saying that day-care centers belong in residential, not commercial, neighborhoods.
"It's not appropriate to put something like this in a shopping mall," said James J. Casey, attorney for the Bladensburg couple who applied for a special exception permit to set up a day-care center for 24 children in their single-family home. "There are people in the neighborhood who go to work in all different directions and want to put their kids somewhere close to where they live."
Casey said he fears the staff report is suggesting that all larger day-care centers be placed in commercial, rather than residential, zones.
In Prince George's, day-care centers for seven or fewer children are permitted in all but one residential zone, said Ruth A. Senes, of the county planning staff. Centers with more than seven children are allowed in most residential and commercial zones but must be granted a special exception permit from the county, she said.
Under the special exception process, day-care centers are considered private schools, and must meet the same criteria before a permit can be issued, she said.
The applicants for the Bladensburg center have proposed turning their backyard into a 2,880-square-foot playground -- the size needed for 24 "students" under the criteria for private schools, according to the staff report. In addition, the applicants plan to pave their front yard for a four-car parking lot, also required under the criteria.
The staff report stated that these proposals, while adhering to county law, made the day-care center too commercial a venture for the Roger's Heights subdivision where the couple lives.
"While special exception applications for day-care centers are technically filed under the heading of private schools, they are, in effect, commercial operations," said Steve Fisher, principal planner for the area. "Noise, traffic and density levels will rise over that common to residential uses."
The staff also noted that the criteria for private schools also stipulate that a special exception proposal cannot threaten the serenity of a residential neighborhood.
The proposed center would degrade the character of the neighborhood and is more appropriate for a predominately commercial area, the report stated.
"The people in the neighborhood are not objecting," countered Casey last week. "We met the technical criteria; it is a proper application for a residential neighborhood."
No one appeared at the planning commission meeting last week to speak either for or against the proposal, staff members said.
Charles A. Dukes, chairman of the county planning board, said this week that it was not unfair to refer to a day-care center as a commercial venture.
"Most day-care centers are there to make money, just as most private schools are there to make money," he said. "They are all commercial ventures. I'd say the staff was saying what they are supposed to say."
Senes agreed, saying that the criteria a private school must meet to be in a residential zone are similar to those that commercial businesses must adhere to when they are located in residential neighborhoods.
"We have special exceptions for commercial businesses in residential areas all the time -- home beauty parlors or antique shops," she said. "One criterion common to any special exception permit is that the neighborhood not be disrupted."
Casey said the applicants will make their case for the center sometime this summer to the county council.