Fort Pierce Planning Board backs conditional use for Avenue F daycare technically already in operation
FORT PIERCE – The Fort Pierce Planning Board voted unanimously Dec. 10 to recommend approval of a conditional use permit for the Precious Lambs Infant Cottage at 1504 Avenue F, a business already technically in operation due to a rare agreement with the City Planning Department.
Planner Brandon Creagan told Board members the conditional use of the property had previously been approved seven years prior but had expired by the time the Owens Family – which also runs the nearby Precious Lambs Kiddie Cottage – was ready to open the facility.
“The conditional use expired before work could be completed and the building permits approved,” he said. “All work has [now] been completed on this site, and all building permits have been closed out to my knowledge. And actually they do have a temporary use through the Planning Department for operations for four months up until February so they can start their operations while they run through the conditional use process as well.”
Chairman Frank Creyaufmiller admitted he’d visited the Infant Cottage the day of the meeting and spoken a length with Kiddie Cottage owner and founder Faye Owens.
“I did a site visit to this location today and had a lengthy discussion with the owner Ms. Faye,” he said. “I believe this is more of a housekeeping [issue], and I think that’s what I understand it to be for the most part.”
Mr. Creagan concurred and recommended approval, emphasizing that the only difference in the site plan from the 2012 approval was the inclusion of an additional parking space.
“Staff is recommending approval subject to one condition: The applicant either provide an update to the lighting proposal that was provided with the 2012 conditional-use application or provide verification that lighting was installed with the approved building permit in accordance with City Code,” he explained. “The subject verification is required prior to the issuance of a business tax license for the daycare.”
In response to a timetable question from Vice-Chairman Michael Broderick, Mr. Creagan confirmed the conditional-use request would need to be heard by the County Commission prior to the applicant visiting the Building Department in the final step. The former wondered if a possible delay might railroad the process.
“If there happens to be any delay getting it onto the City Commission agenda, would that conditional permit be extended?” Vice-Chairman Broderick asked.
“Yes, the Planning Department would entertain an extension of that.” Mr. Creagan replied.
Chairman Creyaufmiller then asked the applicant to address the Board, and Ms. Owens’ daughter, Tekeyshia Owens, explained how she came to be in charge recently of both the older and larger Precious Lambs Kiddie Cottage her parents opened in 1994 and the smaller Precious Lambs Infant Cottage across the street.
“My father is now deceased, but my mother is still there,” she said of the Kiddie Cottage. “She got cancer about three of four years ago, and I ran the facility for her. So in the 10-year process of waiting to open my own [facility], I learned a lot just running hers.”
Her mother’s illness and Miss Owens’ new responsibilities delayed the latter’s original plan to open the 21-bed infant facility on time several years ago, but it’s now up and running thanks to the unusual agreement with the Building Department.
“It’s not as big, but I think it’s very cozy, and it’s a healthy, safe and loving area just for babies,” she explained. “I only take infants from six weeks to 24 months old. I have provided jobs… to eight different adults between the ages of 18 to 52.”
Ms. Owens also informed the Board she was following in her mother’s footsteps in both the care of children and the treatment of employees.
“They all [employees] can go and extend their education if they want to,” she emphasized. “I contribute to that by assisting them and helping pay for their AA degree or AS degree if they choose to continue with their education. I am basically just out to education children [and] to help make life easier for working parents. I just provide a loving, healthy environment for everyone.”
Chairman Creyaufmiller then lauded the work the Owens family was doing in their section of Fort Pierce.
“I commend you for that job that you and your family are doing in the neighborhood and for what you’re doing there in that facility in particular,” he said. “I’m very proud of what you’re doing – this city needs it.”
An Infant Cottage employee, Serena Jackson, spoke on behalf of her employer and said she really liked “teaching the kids their ABCs, shapes and colors.”
“Every day I go to work with the mind-frame of treating others how you want to be treated,” she said. “So, I think if I was an infant, how would I want someone else to handle me? So I treat the babies as if they were my sister or anyone that’s just close to me. I will be starting my AA degree, so that’s just another thing to add, and it’s just a loving facility to work for.”
Miss Owens then chimed back in, emphasizing her focus on education with her younger charges.
“Teaching was one of my main goals, because everyone has that one frame of mind that babies can only be fed and put to sleep all day,” she emphasized. “We’re changing that.”
Parent Charmaine Elliott also addressed the Board, explaining that she has one son at the Kiddie Cottage and another one now at the Infant Cottage.
“I personally expect a lot from the people that care for my kids,” she said. “My four-year-old has been going to their school since he was six weeks old. So, as soon as I had my second one, of course he went there also. I love them because they’re not just babysitting them. When I play his ABCs, he gets up and claps like he knows his ABCs, and he can’t even talk yet – he’s [just] learning to walk.”
A single mother, Ms. Elliott attributed her personal educational achievements to the original founders of Kiddie Cottage.
“I really appreciate them because… she’s [Mrs. Owens] the reason I had the chance to get my AA degree and why I’m continuing to go to school,” she explained. “They work with you and they care, and that’s all I’m looking for: Somebody who actually cares about the children.”
Miss Owens hopes to make it even easier in the future for young mothers to drop off their children on the way to school or work.
“All they have to do is bring their baby and a can of milk,” she exclaimed. “I provide everything else. And by the month of March, I plan on being able to provide them with formula as well. They don’t have to bring anything – just the baby.”
Mrs. Owens then approached the podium, acknowledging the members of the Planning Department who’d facilitated the opening of Precious Lambs Infant Cottage prior to the actual issuance of the conditional-use permit.
“The hardest thing we had to do was a couple months ago when we weren’t able to open the center,” she said. “We had to decide what 20 kids we were going to put out, and I never thought it would be so hard to tell parents that they couldn’t bring their kids back. I lost a lot of sleep off that, [and] my daughter lost a lot of sleep, so I’m going to thank you all for letting us open it a little earlier.”
Vice-Chairman Broderick then praised the Planning Department for orchestrating the work-around until the conditional-use approval went through the proper channels.
“First, I’d like to commend the applicant for their tenacity and the tremendous service they’re providing to the entire community,” he said. “Obviously I would also like to commend the Planning Department staff for having the vision to give them their conditional operational capability. I think that was very forward-thinking, and I applaud the Planning Department for getting that done.”
Right before the vote, Board Member Gloria Johnson-Scott lauded the work of the applicant.
“I’d just like to compliment Mrs. Owens and the Precious Lambs staff as well,” she said. “She said they love what they do. When you go into that area, you can see that they really do, and they have enhanced that area.”
The Board then voted 5-0 to recommend approval, with Board Members Patricia Diazand and Jovona Parker absent.