REDMOND — Alicia Wherry wants to open a child care center in Redmond. But her proposed building is too expensive for her to afford, with an estimated $1.3 million price tag.

Wherry, who owns the Learn With Me part-day preschool in Redmond, said if the city of Redmond could reduce some of the thousands of dollars in permit costs associated with building a child care center, it would give her and other people who wish to build similar facilities a leg up.

“If I could get $10-20,000 knocked off, that would be huge,” she said. “That could be a playground; that could be all the windows in the classrooms.”

Redmond might grant her wish, as city staff plan to rewrite code to ease costs and other hurdles associated with building a child care facility. The move could help alleviate a child care shortage for a city that has a lower percentage of available day care spots than Bend and Sisters.

According to local nonprofit community assistance organization NeighborImpact, only 29% of children ages 0-5 in Redmond have access to child care. Because there are more than three times as many children in that age range as there are available child care spots, Redmond qualifies as a child care desert, according to Erin Pullen, who works for NeighborImpact and facilitates the Redmond Child Care Task Force.

Although some parts of Central Oregon have even less child care access — only 15% of children ages 0-5 have access in Sunriver and Crook County — Bend and Sisters are in better shape than Redmond, Pullen said. In Bend, 38% of young children have access to child care, and 46% of pre-elementary kids in Sisters have an available spot, Pullen said.

State Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, said employers like St. Charles Redmond have a difficult time recruiting people to work in Redmond because of the limited number of child care spots.

“If a nurse gets pregnant, and they can’t find anyone to watch their kid … they end up leaving for Seattle,” Zika said. “This is becoming a problem.”

The code change Redmond is working on would allow child care facilities without conditional use permits in more zoning areas. According to Deborah McMahon, Redmond’s community development planning manager, child care centers are marked as a conditional use in light industrial and commercial zones. That means if someone wants to build a child care center in one of those areas, they must pay $6,117 to apply for a permit. Even after that payment, the city could still deny the applicant.

McMahon said she’s working on changing city code to allow child care centers to be permitted outright — no conditional use application needed — in commercial and light industrial zones. Right now, the only zones where child care facilities are permitted outright are master-planned housing subdivisions, residential cluster development and mixed-use live-work zones, which are high-rise buildings with businesses on the bottom floor and housing on top.

“It’s a complicated thing, and we’re trying to uncomplicate it,” McMahon said.

The proposed city code changes will likely be presented to Redmond’s planning commission in a little more than a month, McMahon said. After that, the City Council and then the state must approve the zoning changes.

One person who spurred the proposed zoning change is Zika. He said when he was on Redmond’s planning commission in early 2018, before being elected to the Legislature, he noticed that child care facilities needed a conditional use permit in commercial zones. He didn’t like that.

“It didn’t seem appropriate,” Zika said. “Why would we increase the barrier (for providing child care)?”

When Zika and his wife had their children, he said the nine-month waiting list for child care, along with the high cost of the available spots due to lack of supply, drove his wife to stay home to raise the kids.

Zika said he was “really happy” to hear the zoning change was moving forward.

When she spoke to the Redmond City Council at an Aug. 13 meeting about her difficulties to finance a child care center, Wherry asked if the city would consider reducing development fees for day care buildings. The Bend City Council reduced transportation-­based development fees by 70% for child care facilities in December.

John Roberts, Redmond’s deputy city manager, said city staff hasn’t discussed lowering development fees for child care facilities yet, but the idea could come up, along with lowered fees for affordable housing, in a future City Council work session.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

23897199