Vague wording in Seneca ordinance causes confusion 9.02.09

Written by David Green.

Some vague wording is contributing to a problem for a Seneca Township resident and her child care business.

Dayna Cordts applied in September 2008 for a special use permit to open a child care facility at her new home on Weston Road. The permit included a requirement to enclose an area of at least 5,000 square feet inside a fence, as listed in the township ordinance.

The fence wasn’t erected by June 1, the deadline set, but Cordts pointed out two problems with the requirement. First, the word “fence” is never used in reference to child care centers. The requirement is for an area to be “screened” from adjacent lots. In other areas of the ordinance book, the word “fence” is used, but not for child care facilities.

She also told the planning commission that her facility is classified as a day care group home (for seven to 12 children) and the ordinance applies only to nursery schools, day nurseries and child care centers.

Since her permit was voided, Cordts applied again and on Aug. 3 commissioners  voted 5-0 to grant another one. Cordts said she thought the issue was settled and she was surprised to learn later that she must either comply with the fence requirement or she would be reported to the state licensing authorities.

“I thought they were done with me,” Cordts said. “I wasn’t aware that I was going to be discussed at the meeting. I did things their way [paying $250 to apply for another permit], but then seven days later it wasn’t good enough.”

Planning commission chair Bob Walton said he wasn’t aware that the second permit would require a fence. He also acknowledged that the ordinance needs some attention. When the zoning rules were written in the 1970s, home day care centers didn’t exist. He said the wording should be updated.

Township supervisor John Gould said the Cordts issue wasn’t on the agenda, but the township attorney was at the meeting and offered to address any concerns. He was asked about the fence issue and he advised speaking with state authorities if compliance wasn’t reached.

Cordts wishes she had been at the meeting to explain her position and she intends to address the township board at the Sept. 14 meeting.

At this point, she’s concerned parents might think her day care will be shut down, but that isn’t the case, she said.

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