Should daycare centers be allowed in single-family zones in Norwalk? 

The Planning and Zoning Commission on May 8

That’s a question the Norwalk Planning and Zoning Commission started discussing at its meeting on May 8. There are three types of childcare providers in the city: family daycare homes, which can have one to six children; group daycare homes, which are permitted to care for between six and 12 children; and daycare centers, which are allowed more than 12 children. 

Under current zoning, only family daycare homes and group daycare homes are allowed in single-family zoning. 

Steve Kleppin, the city’s director of Planning and Zoning, said Michelle Andrzejewski, a senior planner in his office, researched whether the city was providing enough opportunities for daycare, particularly in light of new state regulations regarding kindergarten ages.

Legislation passed in 2023 stipulates that kindergarten students turn 5 by September 1 instead of the previous cutoff of January 1. 

In a memo, Andrzejewski said there are 32 daycare centers, two group daycare homes, and 54 family daycare homes. Her takeaways researching many of these providers included:

  • The Board of Education saying it “does not believe the new law will cause issues.” This is in part because the law allows a child to be enrolled in kindergarten “upon written request from the parent or guardian and assessment completed by the school.” The Board said it was “prepared to accept the letters.”
  • Daycare providers saying infant care was the sector “with the highest demand that may not be met.”
  • Daycare providers split “almost 50/50” when asked if they saw an increase in admissions or inquiries. 

“Within the existing system, there’s capacity to add more,” Kleppin said, noting family daycare centers could apply to become group daycares that accept up to 12 children. “More importantly, research and outreach to most of the providers that we talked to, saying they’re not seeing a need to expand beyond what’s available. And the Board of Ed isn’t seeing that crunch.”

Kleppin said staff felt they’re “just not seeing the need to make any changes at this point,” and they felt larger-scale daycare operations weren’t appropriate in residential, single-family zones. 

However, Commissioner Ana Tabachneck said she believed they were missing some middle daycare opportunities by restricting daycare centers from operating in single-family neighborhoods. 

“The issue was that the Norwalk zoning codes—and many zoning codes—do not allow daycare centers in residential zones, even though the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood is entirely neutral on where daycare centers can be located or what type of zone they might be in,” she said. 

Tabachneck said this issue was raised during hearings on the city’s revised zoning regulations, particularly from her children’s daycare provider. She noted if there was a vote on an application from her childcare provider she would recuse herself. 

“The request from a resident that was raised last year, and that I do support, was to amend our code to allow daycare centers in residential neighborhoods up to a specific number of kids and through a special permit process,” she said. 

Tabachneck proposed allowing daycare centers to operate in Norwalk’s single-family zones provided they have no more than 18 children, are mandated to meet all requirements from the Office of Early Childhood, and do not impact traffic or noise in the area. She also said that the structure should be a property that is conforming to the neighborhood, such as a single-family home, or one that was previously used for another purpose in the space, such as a house of worship.

“I think it’s important that the zoning code not unnecessarily limit daycare slots during a widely acknowledged childcare crisis,” she said. “The fact that we only have two group daycare homes in Norwalk tells me that our mid-sized option isn’t working or could be working better.”

Tabachneck said providing more opportunities for programs within neighborhoods and near where families live could help reduce emissions and car dependency. She also said that in addition to Norwalk striving to become Connecticut’s “greenest city,” as per Mayor Harry Rilling’s request, it should also strive to be the “most family friendly city.” 

While no action was taken by the commission as it was a discussion item, Commissioner Chapin Bryce noted his support for allowing daycare centers up to 18 in single-family neighborhoods, while other commissioners asked for more information. 

Note: This post has been updated at 9:30 a.m. to reflect updated context around Tabachneck’s recusal.


2 responses to “Should daycare centers be allowed in single-family zones in Norwalk? ”

  1. John O’Neill

    If I understand the above — 18 children being dropped off and picked up everyday next door. Staff to handle those 18 children driving and parking on my street everyday.
    Is that it in a nutshell? Everyday?
    Let’s try it in East Norwalk and see how well it works out…..Rowayton would be interesting.

    1. Ana Tabachneck

      Current state is there could be up to 12 on your street as of right, meaning no opportunity for neighbors to weigh in, traffic/parking to be considered, etc. This idea is to allow up to 18 (or 15 or whatever your ideal number is), but only through a special permit process. Slow growth of capacity in the areas where families live. And these are generally M-F, not everyday. Just an idea, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback!

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