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Neighbors being neighborly

Daycare, residents collide, then coalesce in Soldotna

Posted: June 19, 2012 - 8:23am  |  Updated: June 21, 2012 - 3:47pm
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M. Scott Moon
Linda O’Brien stands in her living room as she talks last week about the homes that are serving as daycare centers across the street from her house in Soldotna. She and some of her neighbors are concerned about plans by the Soldotna Church of God to open another house to daycare.

The Humphries and the O'Briens lived directly across the street from each other on South Parkwood Street in Soldotna for more than 20 years before the trouble started.

As good neighbors often do, after several weeks of fighting over a permit issued by planning and zoning, they solved their problems in a living room rather than a board room.

"We're neighbors, that's what neighbors do, theoretically," Soldotna Church of God Pastor Alan Humphries said at the last Soldotna City Council meeting where the issue was formally resolved.

The Soldotna Church of God, at 105 West Redoubt, has been acquiring property in the neighborhood and converted two homes into daycare facilities. The trouble began when it applied for a third permit in April to put another daycare on the same block.

Drew and Linda O'Brien wanted their neighborhood to keep its residential feel while the Church of God, where Alan Humphries is currently the pastor, is trying to ease the pressure off its current facilities and reduce the size of its waiting list.

"We are licensed for 60 kids," said Jeanie Robinson, director of A Hope for the Future Preschool and Daycare, the nonprofit which manages the other two daycare facilities. "Last summer we were running with 57. We are running out of space."

Robinson said there were five people currently on the daycare's waiting list.

Linda O'Brien has been watching the businesses expand in her neighborhood with growing dismay.

"They own everything on that side of the street," she said as she pointed out properties from a large window in her living room. "They own the house next door."

O'Brien said she and her husband have lived in the log cabin they built at 123 South Parkwood since 1970.

"We built this house ... we built in a residential area where there are homes right across the street," she said. "This changes the neighborhood from residential to residential and business."

The two daycares currently operating on South Parkwood are at 108 and 116.  The proposed new facility is at 140 South Parkwood. All three are part of the C.L. Parker subdivision which has 14 lots. The church owns 12 of them, according to city planning and zoning documents.

O'Brien said it has been a longstanding joke between the neighbors that if one ran into Humphries he would mention wanting to buy their homes.

"He'd say 'If you want to sell your house, just let me know," she said.

Humphries agrees that the church would gladly buy every home in the neighborhood.

"That's our goal, so we can do more effective ministry," he said.

When they received a notice about the potential permit, the O'Briens were upset.

Soldotna's Planning and Zoning committee scheduled a public hearing for the conditional use permit and while the O'Briens were at the meeting, Linda said she didn't realize a decision about the church's permit would be made at that time.

The permit was granted and the O'Briens submitted an extensive appeal to the city 13 days later.

In it, they outlined several concerns, the bulk of which revolved around the extra traffic on their street generated by the two existing daycares and the potential traffic that would come from the new one.

"Just by nature of being a daycare they generate a lot of traffic," O'Brien said. "Their reasoning was that we need a daycare in the city, but I don't think we need them on the same block."

In the O'Brien's appeal, Linda included a sampling of traffic she observed between April 19 through April 24. On Sunday, a day that the daycare was not open, six cars travelled down her street between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

On Tuesday 34 cars travelled down her street in a similar time frame.

"In the winter you really notice it more," she said. "The street is so narrow and the snow piles up on the sides making them even narrower."

The city estimated an addition 75 trips per day would be added to the neighborhood if the proposed new daycare was at its maximum capacity of 15 children. This was in addition to the traffic already generated by the other two daycares according to the city's findings. 

Eleven other neighbors signed the O'Brien's appeal requesting that the city revoke the permit.

Even as she talked about how little she wanted to see another business on her block, Linda mentioned several times that there was no animosity between the two families.

"He's been our neighbor for 25 years or so. We've always gotten along and he's doing everything he can to accommodate our complaint," she said.

The Soldotna City Council first heard the O'Brien's appeal on May 23 but put off a decision until its June 13 meeting. In that time Humphries knocked on the O'Briens door, sat down in their living room and came up with four conditions to help mitigate the traffic on the street, including having parents pick up and drop off their kids from an alley running behind the daycare facilities instead of on Parkwood.

By the time the June 13 council meeting rolled around, Humphries had drawn up the conditions and read them aloud to the council members who ultimately struck down the appeal and approved the permit with the added conditions.

Before the council voted however, Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said they'd have to hear from the O'Briens as well to make sure the conditions were agreed upon.

"The things the pastor proposed would help a bunch," Drew O'Brien said. "It would make a world of difference, it would tickle us to death. We are in agreement and I don't know what else I can tell you."

Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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spwright 06/19/12 - 08:57 am
Same Story Different Location

Once upon a time in the days of Ole.
I built my home on a lazy QUITE lonesome gravel road named Fireweed Ave & North Echo Lake Road.
I knew by 1st name, All of My Neighbors, Their Children & Their Pets & the occasional Car would travel down this road.

Then the Millionaire Mr. Ballard built 42 Homes in only One Summer & suddenly I was "Living in the Burbs"
Hundreds of NEW Neighbors, 100's of Children, dozens of Pets. A Vehicle travels down this road hundreds of times per day. Then along comes the damn Snow Machines & 4 Wheelers & Dirt Bikes EXTREMELY LOUD MACHINES at All Hours of the Day & Night & all seem to think this road is some sort of Drag Strip & they can drive at any speed they wish. Very Small Children that can barely reach the handlebars & controls are driving these Monster Machines !
What are these Parents Thinking ? NOT thinking then You see the Parents without Helmets holding tiny Babies while driving & babies without Helmets. DUH !
The word Stupid comes to mind.

Progress I Think SUCKS


kenai-king 06/19/12 - 10:07 am

If this is non-profit I think they should be taxed seems to me there is way to much money in this.

fedupwiththepublic 06/19/12 - 02:55 pm
enough already

how many places can a religious organization own before its time to say enough is enough. These organizations are suppose to be non profit but yet they have all the money in the world to do buy buy. well i pay pay. Pay taxes just like anyone else. These so called daycares you have are businesses. This now makes the neighborhood a commercial area. These are neighborhoods for people to raise their families and have a nice life. If the church wants to buy more homes then I say block off neighborhood for local traffic only and make the daycares use the alley.

Raoulduke 06/19/12 - 03:10 pm
The quickest

The quickest way to be rich.Start a church.You do not have to disclose any financial books.You do not have to pay taxes,and everything,cars,buses etc.Are a tax right off.Can anyone say the word GREED.

twoalaskans 06/20/12 - 07:27 pm
Understanding, kind neighbors

I used to work with Drew O'Brien years ago and can vouch for his reasonableness and general spirit of kind heartedness. He is not one to complain about anything without merit. He and his wife's concerns were valid, and I am happy all was worked out amicably between neighbors. Now, hopefully, everyone involved will honor the agreed upon travel route.

jlmh 06/21/12 - 12:20 pm
What does tax exemptions have

What does tax exemptions have to do with anything? The church is non-profit, the daycare is non-profit. What exactly would you tax? The donations people have made to purchase these lots for daycare? It seems the church is filling a community need, and they tend to do that more efficiently than government - which is where this suggested tax revenue would go. Maybe you are suggesting they pay property tax. Why? Seventy-year-old Drew O'Brien certainly doesn't pay property taxes, thanks to the senior exemption. Quite possibly, no one in that neighborhood pays property tax.

Communities grow and quiet neighborhoods get busy. That is a fact of life, unless you buy all the property around you. This is just another NIMBY complaint that Humphries had the maturity to handle. Daycare is expensive, and a tax would just be additional burden on working parents. I assume the O'Briens are retired, otherwise they would not be home all day getting bothered by the traffic.

VIESTA 08/15/12 - 02:26 am
What is the Need, The Greed and the Misdeed!

First of all, let us not get into a battle of words or wit or even the wordy witless.

I once lived in the fine city of Soldotna and I was ( and am ) very fond of the O'Brien Clan. Good people that love their family and surroundings. This is in no way a slam to the fine Reverend with his many flock, sincerely, I don't give a flock what church is doing what or where or even how, but wanting to own every house on the block. The block that is within walking distance to every man made convenience? True both families have lived on that same block for a great many years, I speak of O'Brien and the Humphrey's. That is all well and good, but allow me now to interject my opinion, that is the opinion of one woman, ME!

First off the question arises, What does tax exemptions have to do with anything? Actually it has a great deal to do with everything. When non_profited day care, churches, yadda yadda, are not taxed, then they are living within the confines of their own rules and do not have answer to government, for they are private when being non_profit. Private or not, “People are still feeling like they are being taken over by a commercial day care enterprise.

Families have lived on that street in Soldotna for a great many years and have built it up from a homestead to a neighbourhood, they don't want to see all their good work go from being a community of neighbours to a a commercial day care of suited connivence for others , which could be quoted as the old phrase, "There goes the neighbourhood"

Rev Humphrey has lived in the neighbourhood for as many years as the O'Briens. So put the shoe on the other foot. What would the good Rev do if Drew O'Brien (being the mechanic) that he is decided to get a permit to work on cars, cars that would be parked in and out of his driveway? A step beyond even, what if Drew got a permit to sale gas to people in his neighbourhood driveway, went on to sale it cheaper than his local competitors? Can you imagine the traffic then, on that quiet street, up and down people would come from all over the peninsula for cheaper gas. What and how would the Humphrey's feel then? Am I exaggerating the situation? Or I may even be exasperating the whole concept of a business on a quiet street, with its' neighbours and people who have lived there the same amount of years.

Wake up people, leave some common sense of what a neighbourhood is supposed to be, a Neighbourhood, not a Business. Look elsewhere for your new daycare, enough is enough already. Keep the American ideas of home, community and neighbours alive.

In the end, it will just come down to people saying, "It was just a quiet neighbourhood, “We never thought of anything like this happening.”

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