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Home-based child care providers in Fairfax County are warning that implementing a new permitting process will reduce the number of child care slots available in the county or cause some providers to go underground and become unlicensed.

After hearing testimony from dozens of in-home child care providers and their clients Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors decided to delay its decision on the updated rules until June 18.

Last year, Fairfax County zoning officials discovered that hundreds of state-licensed child care providers were not in compliance with county zoning rules. The issue came to the forefront in July, when the state began requiring local zoning administrators to sign off on all new licensing applications.

The state permits in-home child care providers to care for up to 12 children while the current county maximum is 10, with a special permit. There are more than 500 providers who have state licenses allowing them to care for up to 12 children, according to county staff.

“We were horrified to find out that we were breaking a law because most of us are very law-abiding, otherwise we wouldn’t be in this business very long,” Sherry Gallier of the Burke Child Care Connection said.

A proposed zoning amendment would bring the county maximum in line with the state maximum but still would require providers to apply for a special permit with the Board of Zoning Appeals to care for more than seven children in a single-family home and more than five children in a townhouse or apartment.

The county also is considering reducing the special permit application fee for home child care from $1,100 to $435.

Even though most providers support increasing the maximum and reducing the fee, many remain concerned that providers will be intimidated by the complexity and cost of the special permit process.

“The nightmare stories all of us have heard from those who have been through the zoning process are turning us away,” said Liz Hijar of the Family Daycare Association of Southern Fairfax County.

CeCe Holman, of the Herndon/Reston Family Child Care Association, said most providers she surveyed say they won’t use the new permit process.

“The number is outrageous on how many people are going to go illegal, how many will go to county permit only and how many will just go out of business,” she said. “I am scared that children will be in unregulated care.”

Going to county permit only would mean reducing the number of children in their care from 12 to seven or five, depending on the type of housing, thereby reducing the number of slots available throughout the county.

“What will happen is, the providers will have to choose which children they keep,” said Sherry Noud, a parent who works part-time and uses a home-based child care provider. “My children will be less preferable than those who need care full time.”

Some county supervisors expressed concern about this issue. They asked county staff to provide more information about how they will implement the new regulations and help make the process as easy as possible for child care providers.

Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) said the county needs to ensure that child care businesses can continue while also providing a mechanism for neighbors to raise concerns about parking, noise or other issues that might affect their community.

“Maybe we could make this work and not make it too overly burdensome,” Cook said, suggesting a more administrative permitting process for providers whose neighbors don’t raise objections.

The board also requested information about the possibility of grandfathering in existing state-licensed providers, provided that they haven’t had complaints from neighbors or any other zoning issues.

Those who provide child care in their townhouses also objected to the different limits based on housing type, saying that they do have plenty of space to safely care for as many as 12 children.

“I have heard from many providers in townhomes, and they accommodate 12 with no complaints,” Gallier said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com