P&Z Grills Day Care on Plans to Stay in Chalk Hill

The Monroe Early Learning Center needs a special exception permit to continue to operate in the former school building.

The future of Chalk Hill, a former school building on Fan Hill Road now owned by the town, is uncertain. Some residents want to close it in a "mothball" state until a long-term use is decided upon, while others want it to become a community center.

Dawn Ryan, director of the Monroe Early Learning Center, a private day operating in the building, cannot wait long for an answer. She needs a special exception permit to stay in the building and has families, who have to know if she will still be there before enrolling their children in the program.

Last Thursday, a Planning & Zoning Commission hearing was held on Ryan's application. It was closed without a decision, pending Town Attorney Jack Fracassini's interpretation over whether or not town regulations allowing a nursery school in a residential zone with a permit also applies to a day care center.

Commissioners also asked if a private business should benefit from operating in a municipal building, whether the application represented "spot zoning", if the parking lot lighting was adequate and if the town would agree to having a pad and an enclosure for the Dumpster.


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"My belief is that a nursery school may have been what the use was called 20 years ago," said Town Planning Administrator David Killeen, who researched the issue.

History of the Day Care

The Monroe Early Learning Center used to be called Jockey Hollow Child Care when it opened at Jockey Hollow School in 2001 with Ryan as director. It was overseen by the Board of Education and allowed town teachers and police officers to enroll their children, so they could work during the day while knowing their children were being cared for.

But when the Board of Education decided to close Chalk Hill as a school and turn it over to the town, the classroom space was needed at Jockey Hollow and the daycare could not stay.

Ryan worked with First Selectman Steve Vavrek, then-interim director of Parks & Recreation Frank Bent and Fracassini and negotiated a lease to operate at Chalk Hill as a private day care.

The Monroe Early Learning Center now has 21 children from 19 families enrolled there and Ryan wants to expand to 44 children, but she said the uncertainty of its status at Chalk Hill has put those hopes in flux.

Kevin Solli, an engineer with The Kimball Group, represented the day care center at the hearing. He said it is a fully licensed and certified child care facility, using two classrooms and an empty one for storage at Chalk Hill.

Solli said that of 12 licensed child care facilities in town, eight of them are located in residential zones.

"This is the continuing of a use that has served members of the community for 10 years," he said. "We respectfully ask the commission to approve this."

Because of the pressures of time for the families in deciding whether or not to keep their children in the program, Solli asked that the commission make its decision the same night.

Questions Raised

Commission alternate, Jane Flader, said a private individual is benefiting by operating in a municipal building.

Of the question over whether a nursery school could also mean a day care center in the town regulations, Vice Chairman Patrick O'Hara, who was acting as chairman following Richard Zini's resignation earlier in the day, said, "There's a difference between a day care and a nursery school. It says any use not specifically listed is not an approved use."

Solli contended that it's open to the commission's interpretation. "It's our position that a nursery school can be all encompassing," he added.

O'Hara said in order to properly evaluate the parking for the day care, the commission has to know the use of the entire facility. But Solli said what happens to the rest of the building is out of his client's control. However, he said there is plenty of parking right now.

Commissioner Karen Martin asked Solli if the day care is affiliated with the town and when he said "no" she said, "So you are a private entity. Can you tell us your interpretation of spot zoning? Are any of these in a municipal building in the town of Monroe?"

John Kimball of The Kimball Group said the YMCA has a day care program at Fawn Hollow Elementary School.

But Martin said that is not a municipal building. "The YMCA is under the auspices of the Board of Education, because that is a Board of Education building. You're asking for spot zoning in a municipal building."

Solli said, "We're asking for a nursery school in a residential zone."

Martin asked if the day care is under the auspices of the Parks & Recreation Department, which is also in Chalk Hill. When Solli said no, Martin asked if it's the only private business operating there right now. Solli replied, "I believe that is correct."

Cathleen Lindstrom, a commission alternate said, "On the likelihood that this is approved, we would set a precedent. Other businesses could have uses in a municipal building in this town."

When O'Hara asked whether it is a day care or a nursery school, Solli said the Monroe Early Learning Center is state certified for both functions. Kimball added that the day care embeds a nursery school platform within its program.

The Dumpsters

O'Hara asked, "What are you doing with the Dumpsters? Should the town follow its own standard and have a pad and an enclosure?"

He also asked what the hours of operation are and was told 7 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. Then he expressed concerns about the lighting outside the building and asked if it could be made less intrusive to the neighbors.

First Selectman Steve Vavrek, "as landlord of the building", was asked if the town would be willing to comply on the Dumpster and the lighting.

"I would like to think we would make it as compliant as we can," Vavrek said.

Martin asked, "As a landlord is it your intent to seek other tenants?"

Vavrek said RFQs have been sent out.

Martin said, "Spot zoning comes to mind when I think of leasing space to a private business in a municipal building. It's similar to leasing part of town hall to a fast food restaurant."

The first selectman said other towns lease space in municipal buildings to entities such as the United Way and Center Stage theater. Vavrek also pointed out that the Center for Women & Families currently has an office at Monroe Town Hall.

"It can be done," he said. "It's just a matter of working closely with the Planning & Zoning Commission."

Martin said, "You're saying you think it's okay to put municipal uses in a building no matter the location?"

O'Hara said different towns have different regulations.

Vavrek said the day care is a permitted use in the Chalk Hill location, according to his interpretation of the rules. O'Hara told the first selectman it is not his place to interpret the regulations.

Public Support

Ellen Hamilla, who lives near Chalk Hill, said she is not sure whether she would support a community center there because of the traffic, but as far as the day care center goes, she said, "It's been there so long, I think I would support that."

Sue Koneff said, "I am in total support of the day care center at Chalk Hill."

Frank Bent marvelled at the work Ryan and her staff does and said, "I would like to see this continue for Monroe. I hope Parks & Recreation continues in the building and that this will grow into a community center."

Nick Kapoor, who is chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and a Town Council member, also spoke in support of the day care.

Dee Dee Martin, a town council member and a longtime teacher at the Gingerbread Schoolhouse in Monroe, said, "I guess I'm a competitor of Ms. Ryan's. I rise in support of this program. It's an excellent program and an asset to the community."

Observing July 23, 2012 at 06:53 PM
@ Steve Kirsch Did the Town of Monroe publically notice a request for proposal specific for daycare/ nursery school use at the now town building Known as Chalk Hill thus allowing other daycare/ nursery school businesses to bid on this space? Or is this just more inside maneuvering by Vavrek. I am not aware of any such RFP and please don’t try to sell anyone on the one designed for Kimball, that’s another law suit waiting to happen. When the Board of Ed controlled the daycare/ nursery school solely for the benefit of teachers and other town staff they could hire anyone they wanted. Things have changed however; this is now a proposed private business operating entirely on public property. That means different rules and laws apply. That’s right LAWS. The way this whole matter has been approached has been completely irresponsible. Vavrek is so so so incompetent as First Selectman. Can anyone say LITIGATION?
Mansfield July 23, 2012 at 07:22 PM
@Christine E ---- your criticizing Kapoor for stating the facts? How would you like someone going online and posting false information about your business?
monroe taxpayer July 23, 2012 at 08:01 PM
So we have a private commercial business operating in a building that was a school but no longer is, and supposedly used for government purposes. Since when is any government allowed to rent/ lease town property and to enter into commercial business for itself? This certainly bends the line between government and business. Can I rent Wolf Park for a private party? Or can I rent some of the town's heavy equipment? How about a police car? No? Then how and why is this different? It seems that the government is entering into private business for itself without the taxpayers even being asked? And I would think there and over all question if that is even legal? Let mail all residents ALL the details and hold a referendum to see how they feel?
Christine E. July 23, 2012 at 08:54 PM
The criticism I have is the insinuation that people purposefully spread mistruths and lies. I think the public is just confused. I mean, really...is our town known for being transparent? If facts are misrepresented, or mistruths are stated, how is scolding someone productive, especially when you're trying to promote civility? I also don't see what purpose it serves/served to throw in the remark about anonymous postings. It's so sad what little regard our town officials have for those residents who wish to voice their opinions without unsafely scattering their names all over the internet. One minute we read about crimes and promote internet safety, the next minute someone speaks anonymously and they're condemned. Lose-lose.
Jethro July 23, 2012 at 09:23 PM
The same people against this daycare are the same people against education. The usual crazies with way too much time on their hands. Only fools are fooled by their campaign of misinformation.
Sheila D July 23, 2012 at 10:08 PM
I really have to stop re-reading this article as I keep finding more incredulousness about the statements from these commissioners. Mr. O’Hara asked about lighting of the building-Why should Ms. Ryan be involved in that line of questioning, especially after she said her hours of operation fall during times when lighting is not an issue? Ms. Flader’s comment about a private entity benefitting by working in a municipal building is interesting as according to the article, the Department of Women & Families is in Town Hall and pays rent. If my aging memory serves me correctly, Country Pizza used to run the concession stand at Great Hollow Lake as a private entity on municipal property too. Ms. Lindstrom’s comment about being ‘precedent setting’ is interesting as she must not have read the Public Notices in the CT Post last week about an RFP for using Chalk Hill as a Community Center, which would be--a private entity in a municipal building. Based off of the fact that the Town Attorney had to be called in (and paid handsomely I’m sure) for an interpretation of daycare versus nursery school, this will surely fire up Mr. Kapoor’s quest for justice on high legal fees. Is it too late to change our Legal Fees line item budget seeing as our P&Z commissioners are jump-starting our fiscal year in a banner way?
pro ed July 23, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Not true Jethro. I am an a supporter of public education but this endeavor is different because now this has become a private business operating on public property and by keeping the building open at a cost of 300K per year ( BOF figures not misinformation) when it could be otherwise closed, becomes a subsidy. Town government should not be subsidizing private business. 300K to keep it open 20K received back to the town from the private day care…come on….please just apply some arithmetic, this doesn’t work. It would be cheaper for the town to just rent and pay for some space elsewhere and then allow this private daycare to operate there at no charge.
Joey July 23, 2012 at 10:55 PM
The public grilling that needs to happen is a discussion regarding the massive legal fees being tallied by the Planning & Zoning and Mr. Vavrek! O'Hara and Vavrek spend so much money they need to build a printing press in the basement of town hall. Expensive private law firms, silly questions to an over-paid town attorney who is robbing this town blind! And if these questions of overspending are asked in front of the Town Council, the partisan Republican majority shuts them down. Or Vavrek tells people to ask him these questions in the privacy of his office.
Monroe Guy July 23, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Mr. O’Hara and the P&Z gunna run binniss out a here. If they need a fancy lawyer to do it then that’s whats they need. Just stop all this belly aching about that there day care and just send all them youngens over to Mr. O’Hara’s farm and let him put em to work. Farmin that’s what Monroe is all about and the sooner our youngens learn that the better.
Mansfield July 23, 2012 at 11:39 PM
@Shelia D: Vavrek called the town attorney, who charges 175 per hour, for a definition of day-care vs. nursery school. WHAT UP WITH THAT! Does Vavrek not know about Google or does he just love spending money on attorney fees?
sam July 24, 2012 at 12:46 AM
The hours of operation are 7 to 4:20 and that's supposed to be "open to the public"? I'm sorry, but the vast majority of full time workers, myself included, work 9 to 5 or some variation very close to those hours. We also work TWELVE months a year...Is this daycare also open year round? The operating hours alone suggests that this facility continues to cater to the teachers and maybe a few other town workers and calling it a regular daycare is very misleading. I'm pretty dismayed that our elected officials do not seem to be asking the right questions...
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Part 1 The fact that the use in question is proposed for town building is irrelevant. The zoning regulations permit nursery schools but not daycare centers in a residential zone. Home daycare is permitted by statute, and we are not talking about that. If the proponents of interpreting the zoning regulations such that a daycare center is equivalent to a nursery school are true to principle, they would have to agree that if an operator such as KinderCare or Tutor Time applied for a special exception permit to open a stand-alone building for a daycare center on any residential street in town, the use would be permitted, and the building could be constructed next to anyone’s home. I personally don’t think that a daycare center is equivalent to a nursery school, and I certainly would be up in arms if the first selectman or town attorney claimed that such a building and use next to my home or anyone else’s home in a residential zone is proper and permitted under the zoning regulations.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Part 2 Re. the arguments concerning lower rent because of less foot traffic, I think they are shallow in that parents may prefer a daycare center in a location such as the Chalk Hill building rather than a strip center on Main St. or Monroe Turnpike. The argument could be made that, if the use is permitted, which I do not concede, that market rent might be higher for a daycare center than what it would be in a strip center on Main St. or Monroe Turnpike because Chalk Hill is a more desirable location for the particular use. For whatever it is worth, on the subject of a daycare center use allegedly being equivalent to a nursery school use, ask yourselves what your opinion would be if the proposal was one by KinderCare of Tutor Time to build a large stand-alone building in a residential zone next to your home.
Designated Hitter July 24, 2012 at 02:35 AM
I'm confused. Isn't the cow out of the barn on this one? Shouldn't this due diligence (including fair market value assessments, Mr. Sobel's points, etc.) have been addressed BEFORE Ms. Ryan opened and established her daycare at Chalk Hill? Mr. Fracassini was involved in the original negotiation for her to operate it as a private daycare. And now her application is pending his interpretation of the town's regulations??? Seriously? This is someone's livelihood; if the town had done their homework at that time, the situation could have been different, and Ms. Ryan wouldn't be put in this terrible position. This is really shameful and embarrassing for the town.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 02:11 PM
More: The cow is not out of the barn. This is the first time anyone came before the planning & zoning commission. The user is just as responsible as anyone to know the law. By way of example, if I pay less income tax than I should have because I went to an IRS office for help and received mistaken advice, I nonetheless owe the balance of what I would have paid if the mistaken advice were not given. In the instance of the daycare, the Monroe Zoning Regulations include “nursery school” as a permitted use in a residence zone. There is no mention of daycare as a permitted use in the residential zone, and there is no mention of any other broadly stated commercial use in the residential zone under whose umbrella a daycare center would fit. The zoning regulations also clearly state that any use not expressly permitted is prohibited.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 02:12 PM
More - continued: Wouldn’t the absence of the term “daycare” among the permitted uses in a residential zone at least sparked each of the persons involved in opening the operation in the first place to say “wait a minute - let’s look into this.” How about the fact that the zoning regulations also require a special exception permit from the planning & zoning commission before the use may be commenced? What happened there? Why wasn’t an application for a special exception permit filed at the outset? Perhaps one or more involved in opening the private-business daycare center in the Chalk Hill building knew the use was questionable from the beginning. And how could there have been any question about the need for a special exception permit before instituting the use? The town has to follow the law, just like anyone else. Perhaps this principle might be kept in mind in considering other revenue generators as a means to offset the operating cost for the building. The fact that some in town want to generate revenue off of the building to keep it open is not a reason for the town to be above the law. Just remember, in considering whether any commercial use should be allowed for Chalk Hill, which could be via an amendment to the zoning regulations, the same use must be allowed throughout whatever residential zone in which Chalk Hill is located and possibly the other residential zones.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 02:13 PM
The end: Consider what your opinion would be if someone constructed a building for the same use on any residential street in town, including next door to your home or in the midst of your neighborhood.
Steve Kirsch July 24, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Paul, what is the legal difference, distinction, or definitions between a nursery school and a daycare center within CT laws and regulations?
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Steve, I did not see a definition of “nursery school” in the Connecticut statutes. However, it is referred to in several statutes disjunctively from the separate term “child daycare.” Also, there is a statute that provides that if the public school system operates a nursery school, it must provide for a minimum of four hundred fifty hours of actual school work. (Gen. Stats. 10-15). The implication is that a nursery school provides for a program of education with “actual school work.” The statute has the same requirement for half-day kindergarten. Another implication is that since nursery school is defined disjunctively from kindergarten, when children reach kindergarten age, they are beyond the nursery school stage. Also, Webster’s Dictionary defines “nursery school” as a school for children usually under five years of age.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 19a-77 defines the term “child day care services” to include “child day care center,” “group day care home,” and “family day care home.” The statutes also reference adult day care as another type of day care. A “family day care home” is defined as a private family home caring for not more than six children, including the provider’s own children. A “group day care home” is defined one meeting the definition for a family day care home except that the number of children is not less than seven nor more than twelve, and it operates from a facility other than a private family home. A “child day care center” is defined as providing a program of supplementary care for more than twelve unrelated children outside of their homes on a regular basis. Interestingly, the definition seems to imply that a day care with seven or more children cannot operate from a private home. In any event, calling a day care center and nursery school to be synonymous seems more than a stretch to me.
Sheila D July 24, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Mr. Sobel, I am usually a fan of your work here and the amount of time you put forth in educating/sharing information with the public. In this instance though, I think you may be contradicting yourself. There is no such license for a nursery school in 2012 as it is an outdated term. Anyone that tried to open a 'nursery school' would apply to the State and get the same Childcare license as KinderCare/Tutortime that you yourself mentioned earlier. There must be a website/manual/800# that our Planning & Zoning folks could reference that provides synonymous terms that are utilized in the modern day to help with more current terminology. If these commissioners are going to be strictly following the term 'nursery school' for Ms. Ryan as is stated on the P&Z website for residential zones, then they need to shut down all the other childcare centers operating in residential zones. The inconsistent interpretation for one business is where lawsuits come into play, but I don't think that message has gotten through to these commissioners based off of these exorbitant legal fees.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Sheila, I think the question is what the term "nursery school" meant when it was written into the zoning regulations. Many moons ago, my oldest went to what we called preschool as Susanna Wesley in Shelton, and my youngest went to the preschool at United Methodist on Cutler's Farm Road in Monroe. I would call those nursery schools, at least the way they were operated then. I don't know how they operate now. If "preschool" is a current term, perhaps it a synonym for "nursery school." Re. other potential violations, I do not agree with the argument that if others are doing it, it's okay or that the town should allow something that it prohibited. By way of example, if everyone is doing 65 miles per hour on Route 25, if I get stopped for just going 60 MPH, that everyone else goes at least 65 MPH and does not get stopped is no defense to my being guilty of going too fast and having to pay the ticket.
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Shelia, By the way, state statute supersedes zoning with respect to a "family day care home" - up to six children in a private home and a "group day care home" - from seven to twelve children in other than a private home. Gen. Stats. Sec. 8-2 provides that the zoning regulations shall not prohibit family day care homes or group day care homes from operating in a residential zone.
Sheila D July 24, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I do agree that the traditional term nursery school is something different than the term daycare, or at least it was 20-30+ years ago. My point is that it's not a term anymore that the State uses. Susanna Wesley still runs a nursery school program in Shelton, as does Gingerbread in Monroe, but they have Childcare center licenses, not nursery school licenses as that is the evolved term. While I also agree with the speed limit example in theory, cases that come before P&Z are different. The only simile I can make is that in this case, all drivers would have to stop at the same police blockade, be asked the same questions (do you have a seatbelt on, have you been drinking, etc...) and be let through if they had not violated either of those rules. KinderCare has been in that location for more than 10 years, so the commission at the time had to have seen 'childcare' be synonymous with 'nursery school' even as far back as the 90's. Not being familiar with more than what is being disclosed in these articles, it doesn't appear that she's asking for anything more than the same interpretation of the term that has been given for at least 10 years.
Mary July 24, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Tough call for sure.......
Donna Gail July 24, 2012 at 08:41 PM
It's not Ms. Ryan's fault that she was kicked out of JH. She seems to have been put through the wringer more than any other day care/nursery school owner in Town at this point. What's the big deal with letting her get maybe a small break on rent during this transition? If the situation is approved, perhaps THEN her rent can be re-evaluated. But I'd say right now the Town owes her, considering all the trouble she's being given just to continue what she was doing already. This mess could have been avoided if someone had addressed it responsibly as soon as she was pushed out of JH. I'd say a small rent is better than no rent at all. Why did the town attorney Mr. Fracassini not get the situation straightened out when it first came to light? From what I've gleaned over the years, all town buildings are owned by the Town, so Ms. Karen Martin, it shouldn't make a difference whether the day care is in JH/CH "under the auspices of the BOE" or not. Mr. O'Hara - nursery school, day care - as long as the kids are being read to and doing crafts and learning ABC's and playing games, is there really a difference? Why are they nitpicking about this crap now? Let this OPEN nursery school/day care facility stay in CH, and please get to work on the real zoning issues in Town, such as blatant zoning violations by businesses being run out of homes (just drive by any street and see the plumbing/landscaping/excavating/rubbish trucks in abundance).
Donna Gail July 24, 2012 at 08:42 PM
I couldn't agree more, Ms/Mr. Hitter!!
Donna Gail July 24, 2012 at 08:47 PM
You really think Ms. Ryan is milking the taxpayers?? Besides the fact that she IS paying rent to the Town, there are much bigger issues than this. You sound like youre holding a personal grudge. Or do you really just think the day care is mostly for teachers' kids and you're a teacher-hater?
Paul Sobel July 24, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Sheila, To your last point about licensing, I believe nursery schools, or at least some of them, require licensure as child day care centers because they are a species of “child day care center,” as defined in the statutes, Connecticut Statutes Section 19a-77. The definition is: an operation “which offers or provides supplementary care to more than twelve related or unrelated children outside of their own homes on a regular basis.” Interestingly, this statute has a list of exclusions, for licensing purposes. The exclusions include services administered by a public school system, and services administered by a private school that is approved by the state board of education or an accrediting agency recognized by the state board of education. Anyway, since nursery schools may be considered a species of “child day care center,” it does not follow that all child day care centers are nursery schools. I heard that the upper end of the age range for the Chalk Hill day care is ten years old. If a child can be five or six when beginning first grade, a ten year old could be in fourth or fifth grade. I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that caring for a fourth or fifth grader while his or her parents are at work can be considered as having the child enrolled in a nursery school. The same would hold true for kindergarteners and first, second and third graders
davidcotton1 November 17, 2012 at 04:27 AM
Excellent Share! An exciting dialogue is well worth comment. I think you ought to compose much more on this matter, it may well not be considered a taboo issue but typically individuals usually are not enough to speak on this sort of topics.


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