Neighbors being neighborly

Daycare, residents collide, then coalesce in Soldotna

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 rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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