After hearing from residents and prospective providers, Arlington will formally explore ways to add child care options in the county.
Under the recently-approved fiscal year 2018 budget, a full-time employee will join the Dept. of Community, Planning, Housing and Development to suggest changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance that would help child care centers open.
The County Board also directed $50,000 be spent on an independent study to determine gaps in child care offerings by age and location.
County Board vice chair Katie Cristol, an advocate for more child care options in Arlington, said zoning ordinance tweaks could be key in adding more centers.
“I am strongly of the opinion, having formed it from talking to a lot of providers or would-be providers, that our biggest obstacles are within the zoning ordinance in terms of the number of parking spaces required by childcare centers or the amount of indoor vs. outdoor space,” Cristol said. “It makes it very hard to find a space for rent in Arlington County that will actually meet the requirements.”
Cristol said the independent study, done in parallel to any work tweaking the zoning ordinance, should give more data on where the gaps in the market lie. WTOP reported in February that children outnumbered daycare and preschool openings by a ratio of roughly three-to-one in 2015.
“There are some things we know and there are some things that we don’t know, so we want to get a little bit more specific about where the geographic areas are where childcare is most lacking,” Cristol said. “We have some hypotheses about that but not as much data.”
The county’s child care ordinance could also be in for another examination, especially in light of Virginia’s statewide regulations not being revised upwards. Cristol said she had been hopeful of the Virginia Department of Social Services revamping its regulations around child care centers, and improving standards that she said could be “almost criminally low.”
Last year, Arlington dropped a proposed update to its own child care regulations after several County Board members, Cristol included, slammed the inclusion of certain controversial provisions, which were seen as overly-prescriptive. Cristol was also critical of adding to the regulatory burden of small daycare providers without a clear health or safety imperative.
State officials decided at the end of last year to leave Virginia’s regulations alone, and while Cristol said Arlington’s continue to be tougher, a fresh look led by the county’s Child Care Licensing Office could help.
“I think after the version you saw in early 2016, which was roundly understood and emphasized by myself and other Board members to be a huge overreach, there are opportunities to look afresh at what are the high expectations that we have and want to communicate, and what do we actually require as a condition of opening a childcare center,” Cristol said.
The study will begin sometime after the start of the fiscal year, on July 1, while Cristol said she anticipated any zoning ordinances changes will come before the community and County Board in around 18 months.