City Council votes to ease restrictions on child care facilities in residential areas – The Dallas Morning News

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The Dallas City Council addressed the burgeoning need for child care services Wednesday after it approved a 100% property tax exemption to qualifying child care centers and reached a compromise to remove a special-use permit requirement for centers catering to fewer than 12 children in single-family neighborhoods.

The tax exemption was a product of a Texas constitutional amendment measure during the Nov. 7 elections that allowed local governments to authorize tax exemptions for child care facilities. When the City Council met Wednesday, it began by tweaking the recommendation from a 50% tax exemption to a tax abatement.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who had advocated for the constitutional amendment at the Texas State Capitol, spoke at the City Council meeting on Wednesday in support of the measure. He said the amendment passed with 66% support among Texas voters and the amendment gave council members “the power to support child care centers and provide some sort of relief to parents that seek child care services in the state of Texas, specifically here in Dallas.”

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The measure passed unanimously.

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The second half of Wednesday’s efforts to encourage more child care services in Dallas were geared toward doing away with regulatory barriers that make opening a facility difficult.

Council members were supposed to weigh in on the code amendments on Dec. 13, 2023. But concerns that the measure did not have enough public input led to the vote being moved to Wednesday.

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Much of the debate about the code amendments has oscillated between the shortage of child care services and a potential loss of community input from single-family neighborhoods.

Previous regulations mandated that child care providers who looked after more than 10 children could open facilities “by right” in nonresidential, industrial zones. But providers needed a special-use permit to start a facility in a residential neighborhood.

Council member Paul Ridley, who oversees District 14, came up with a recommendation to “strike a balance” between expanding access to child care and self-determination of neighborhoods.

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Ridley’s amendment did away with the City Plan Commission’s recommendation of removing SUPs altogether. Instead, the council member suggested increasing the number of child care attendees allowed “by right” in residential districts from 10 to 12. His amendment would also allow child care facilities in multifamily and all commercial districts.

Furthermore, Ridley increased the number of adult care attendees allowed in residential districts from four to eight.

Council member Jaynie Schultz sought to tweak Ridley’s amendment. She suggested increasing the capacity of attendees in adult day care homes to 12. Her amendment would also allow facilities wanting to open small-scale establishments in older church and school buildings to circumvent the SUP process.

Council member Carolyn King Arnold had reservations about increasing the occupancy numbers for adult care homes. Ultimately, the council reached a compromise voted 9-5 on Schultz’s changes to increase the maximum occupancy of facilities from 10 to 12.

SUP: help or hindrance

Advocates say the SUP process can take anywhere between four months to a year, and has in the past discouraged potential new providers from starting a service. Moreover, in a report sent to the council before the Wednesday meeting, city officials said existing child care services “are hard to find and are expensive (supply and demand)” and “generally located outside of communities who need these services (increases traffic and vehicle miles traveled by residents)”.

Staff research related to day care centers also revealed a future demand for services catering to Dallas’ aging population. Census data showed that adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under 18 by 2035.

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To that end, city officials made some suggestions.

One recommendation would zone new adult day care and child care centers under the same land use. They also recommended removing the SUP process in residential districts and instead adding the SUP requirement for proposed facilities in industrial zones to protect children and senior residents who fall into the vulnerable population.

Melanie Rubin, director of the Dallas Early Education Alliance that advocates for child care policies, told council members the code amendment was “smart, strategic policy”.

“Most of the providers who would benefit from the SUP change would likely be smaller in-home providers who will serve infants and toddlers and address the pressing gap,” Rubin said.

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“Industry advocates agree that insufficient supply of day care workers and their cost are the largest obstacles to expanding affordable daycare,” Ridley said. “That is the real barrier. That needs to be addressed to increase the supply.”

According to the 2022 American Community Survey, Dallas has approximately 93,000 children aged below 5 years. But the city’s current child care capacity could only cover 37% of the youngest children.

Meanwhile, the staff report showed there are 281 licensed child care providers in Dallas, but only 13% of Dallas’ 281 child care providers have special-use permits. Majority of the services, attached to faith-based organizations, were already operating without SUPs since they’re allowed to run “by right”.

Pushback against the amendments has come from residents concerned about increased traffic in neighborhoods and its impact on community input.

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Jack Kocks, a District 11 resident, said removing the SUP requirement and allowing land use “by-right” eliminates an extra screening by city staff.

“Equally important is that it overrides residents’ rights to have a voice as to what happens in their neighborhood,” Kocks said.

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