For the second year in a row, the Sherman City Council overturned a decision by the city's Planning & Zoning Commission to allow a local day care to continue operation in a one-family residential zone.
The council voted unanimously to grant a specific use permit for three years for Chiniqua and Delmar Hill, the owners of the Pre-School for Little Zebras at 1211 Blanton Drive. Deputy Mayor Jason Sofey said he felt strongly that there should be a time limit on the specific use permit as the business is in a residential neighborhood and made the motion for the three-year limit. Council member Charles H. Brown Sr. said he felt there shouldn't be a time limit on the permit and didn't initially voted, but ultimately voted in favor of the motion because all the other council members had voted in favor of it.
“I'm reluctantly voting yes,” council member Charles H. Brown Sr. said, explaining he felt Sofey's motion was made too quickly.
The Sherman Planning & Zoning Commission failed to pass the Hills' request for a specific use permit and site plan last month as only three of the five commission members present for the meeting voted in favor of the request and four are needed to approve it. The commission also denied the Hills' request to open the day care last year, but when the Hills appealed the decision, the council reversed that ruling the following month, allowing the licensed child care facility for one year.
As at last month's P&Z meeting, a number of parents from the day care and neighbors of the Hills spoke on their behalf Monday and only Kelly Bickerstaff, who lives behind the day care, spoke in opposition to it.
Fellow Blanton Drive residents Bill Sneed and Charles Carey told the council that they'd seen no traffic problems along the roadway during the past year.
“Everything seems to be very good, traffic-wise,” Sneed, who said he lives two doors down from the day care, said. “Noise and everything is just fantastic. So I have no complaints whatsoever.”
Bickerstaff said there is no parking on Blanton, but acknowledged it was like that before the day care was created.
“Now it's only complicated further,” he said.
Bickerstaff said the city has zoning ordinances to regulate where businesses can be located.
“And make no mistake, and I'm not being critical of the Hills, but this is a business — the purpose of it is to make money,” he said, adding that he's never counted the number of children at the day care, but he can hear them when they're in the Hills' backyard. “At least in my experience over the last year, they're laughing, they're screaming, they're crying — every day of the week. That's just the normal course of the week.”
The day care, which operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, accepts children 5 years and younger and currently has 11 students, Chiniqua Hill said last month. Delmar Hill told the council they're just trying to provide a safe environment for the children and a service to the community.
“When those kids go to Sherman ISD, they're going to know where they came from,” Delmar Hill said. “They came from Pre-School for Little Zebras.”
Last year, the council made its decision after discussing it in executive session, by which time only the Hills remained in the council chambers. This year, Bickerstaff urged them to make the decision in front of everybody.
“It was asked that we discuss this in public and I totally agree,” council member Terrence Steele said. “I know that we have put the Hills through loops to get this done. They've done what we asked them to do as a council last year. It's going to be my recommendation that we approve the Hills with continuing to go with their learning center in our community.”
Council member Kevin Couch also expressed his support for the Hills and offered them an apology.
“You guys were very, very mistreated in that meeting,” Couch said. “I watched it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears and I want to apologize. You guys are citizens in the city of Sherman and you deserve respect and you don't deserve to be treated that way.”
Brown also attended last month's P&Z meeting and said he was also upset by the way the Hills were treated. Bickerstaff later addressed the council again and defended the P&Z commission.
“I was present for the entire Planning and Zoning meeting the last time we appeared,” Bickerstaff said. “And I did not hear one unprofessional comment by any member of that commission. They did ask questions.”
Couch and Brown then interrupted Bickerstaff and explained they were talking about him and his comments at the P&Z meeting.
“I'm not a member of that commission,” Bickerstaff said as the room erupted in applause from the Hills' supporters. “But the Hills aren't in your backyard and they're not in your backyard. But they're in mine and I live in an R-1 (residential district).”