A non-profit opened this spring with very little fanfare at 21 West Pennsylvania Avenue, but the non-profit’s business appears to be a violation of zoning for Neighborhood Business. The property had been a florist shop and most recently a popular antique shop. While the town was told the location would be offices, the offices will soon become an after-school program for scores of children.
The property is zoned Neigborhood Business (B-1). According to the Town of Walkersville’s Zoning Ordinance, the B-1 District is “intended to permit residential areas the convenience of having a limited number of frequently used retail and service needs in close proximity . . .” and “to encourage the provision of small, safe, attractive and well-located shopping areas for primarily pedestrian . . . ”
The B-1 district does not list after-school programs as a permitted use, nor does it specifically address such use as a special exception. According to the Walkersville Town Code, special exceptions may be granted by the Board of Appeals for “Children’s nurseries and kindergarten, kindergarten and other private schools.” Town Code requires any such special exception granted by the Board of Appeals maintain 100 square feet of open space for each child enrolled. The lot does not have much, if any, open space.
The name of the organization left many scratching their heads wondering what was going to move into the space. Outside of painting and some remodeling, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Preserve Unity Render Empowerment, Inc. seeks “to enrich and rebuild. To change lives of economically disadvantaged children nationally and intentionally through the empowerment of education, leadership, and community service. ” [sic]
P.U.R.E. Love Inc. held a grand opening during Walkersville Day on May 17, 2014. No one seemed to take much notice, except that there were balloons and they were inviting folks to see their space.
While activity has been slow at the organization, there was a buzz of activity in June with children walking from Creamery Park to the building to do crafts. For a few days, there were a lot of children doing arts and crafts with parents picking up and dropping off children.
The organization’s use of the property came up briefly during a Planning Commission meeting in June. Some members of the commission asked about the use. Susan Hauver, Town Planner and Zoning Administrator for Walkersville, reported that she spoke with the woman operating the organization and was told it would be offices. Michael Kuster, Planning Commission member and neighbor to the property, reported about a large group of kids doing art work for a week or so. Otherwise, there was not much going on at the property and that he could only report that there were some computers in what used to be the store front.
Over the summer, the windows have been decorated with paint and the names of children. Still, not much activity takes place at the property.
Today, The Frederick News Post reported that the organization “will offer after-school programming to low-income children in Walkersville. Its first fall session will begin Sept. 8 and offer programs for children in first through 12th grade.” The brief article noted that forty-five children participated in the groups “Summer Arts Program.”
The organization’s web site lists several programs for children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The site includes photographs of children participating in activities in Walkersville Town Hall, at local parks and inside 21 West Pennsylvania Avenue. One photograph shows Walkersville Burgess Ralph Whitmore with program participants.
If an after-school program were permitted as a special exception, the use would still fail to meet the requirements of the Town Code as they are currently written. The Planning Commission plans to submit recommendations to change some requirements next month.
The Town Code currently requires 1 parking space per 100 square feet of floor area for special exceptions. The building has 3492 sqaure feet. About half of that space consists of an apartment and office in the second floor. According to a sign on the building, there is also a photography studio in the building also.
The entire building’s uses currently violate Town Code. The front yard for a B-1 Neighborhood Business District must be a minimum of 20 feet; the side yard must be 10 feet; the rear yard must be 25 feet. The property does not offer enough off-street parking and the parking that is permitted is in the front yard, which is not permitted in the district. Though the uses have been in place for many years, the change of use appears to require the property to meet the requirements. Walkersville Town Code allows non-conforming uses that were in place prior to January 1, 2001, but requires changes of use and new uses to meet the code.