A day care’s future hangs in the balance
BRECKENRIDGE – Six toddlers sat around a table, babbling and drinking orange juice from plastic sippy cups. One, Ethan, finished, dropped his cup into the sink and wandered off to select a toy from an array lining the wall of the living room.The dryer rumbled in a nearby room, and the aroma of banana bread permeated the air. An infant, hooked up to a heart and oxygen monitor, awakens, his big eyes watching the scene around him. His physical therapist will arrive later to help him exercise his limbs.Upstairs, a short-haired collie slept, waiting to sit with the children at storytime, or to go for a walk when the kids visit the library or park.Such is a typical day in Barb Theis’ home, where she operates a child-care and dog-care business.Although the parents of the 12 children she watches love her, she’s recently come under fire because she operates what the town of Breckenridge considers a “home occupation” and doesn’t meet the requirements in the town code to obtain the appropriate business license.
“No child-care home could ever get a business license (in Breckenridge) due to the nature of child-care business,” she told the town council Tuesday evening. “What I want is the town council to rewrite the code so a child-care business can get a business license in the town of Breckenridge just as they do in the town of Frisco, Silverthorne, Dillon and the county.”Those towns exempt day-care homes from their home occupation criteria and limit the number of children in each home.The town of Breckenridge has 10 criteria by which someone must abide to obtain a business license for a home occupation. Theis is in violation of seven of them.Among them is that a business must be secondary to the primary use of the home, it must be contained within the home, occupy no more than 25 percent of the floor area and only hire family members as employees.Theis argues that most day-care homes occupy the vast majority of the home, that it’s impossible – particularly under her state childcare license – to stay within the home all day and that because hers is a “large” day-care operation, she needs to have two employees to assist her.If they decide to deny the request or stick by the existing code, Theis would have to close up shop – something her customers fear.
Two of Theis’ day-care parents came to her defense during the council meeting, saying they wouldn’t be able to keep their jobs or have a second child if it weren’t for Theis’ flexibility.”When we found Barb, we were thrilled,” said Heather Armstrong, whose workday begins at 6:30 a.m. “At no other day care could I maintain those hours. And she’s $10 a day less than others and provides everything. Without her, there would be no way I could afford two children. It’s not possible. It’s not realistic.”The town council, many who were ready to side with the planning commission and staff and deny Theis’ application for an emergency variance, soon came to agree with her.”She doesn’t come close to meeting the criteria,” said Mayor Ernie Blake. “But what she is doing is important to the community. Child care is very important to us. It’s a darn shame. It’s a wonderful service.”Councilmember Jim Lamb agreed.”Things didn’t look good for her,” he said. “She was in complete violation of policy – there was no gray area. But she presented a strong case.”
The town staff will now examine other town and county policies and see if parts of them might be applicable to the town to help keep Theis’ business operable.”We spend a lot of money creating child care,” said Councilmember Rob Millisor. “It makes no sense that we don’t allow home day care.”After hearing Theis’ plight, the council now has 60 days to make a decision, be it granting an emergency variance, as Theis requested Tuesday, changing the code to exempt day-care homes from the “home occupation” definition or denying her request for a variance.”I don’t know if she’ll make it (any new criteria),” Blake said. “But at least we’ll have something sensible on the books for other people.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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