If you think punctuation doesn’t matter, talk to this guy

A years-long acrimonious battle between Pelly Road residents and Love to Learn Daycare began with a simple semi-colon.

A years-long acrimonious battle between Pelly Road residents and Love to Learn Daycare began with a simple semi-colon.

The small, seemingly innocuous punctuation mark allowed the daycare to expand to 51 children, and that’s 41 more than some residents would like to see in the facility.

But they’re out of luck, thanks to a little punctuation.

Shane Hurst is one of the residents frustrated by the size of the daycare next door.

He’s concerned about the constant traffic in the mornings and evenings, the excess noise and the loss of privacy he feels when he’s in his backyard and there’s children playing outside.

“I don’t even take time off in the summer anymore because I can’t enjoy my backyard,” he said.

And because the daycare only has enough parking for staff, parents must park their cars along the street, sometimes blocking the driveway, said Hurst.

When he bought the house, he wasn’t told by the real-estate agent there was a daycare next door. The salesperson only showed the property on evenings and weekends – once the daycare was closed. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have moved there, he said.

Normally, the city wouldn’t allow a daycare that large to operate in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.

But in 1987 it did, laying the groundwork of this community fracas.

That’s when the Whitehorse Board of Variance ruled the daycare, which had 10 children at the time, could increase its capacity.

And this is where the semi-colon comes in.

Bylaw 493, written in 1981, laid out what is permitted in a residential area. That included, “private schools; daycare centres; childcare centres; and group homes designed to accommodate a maximum of 10 persons.”

That semi-colon changed everything. According to the variance board, it eliminated the cap on all uses, except group homes.

So when Love to Learn Daycare owners approached the city in 1987 to expand, it was allowed to, even though the city was against the idea.

The city even tried to appeal the expansion two months later, but was stymied by its own bylaws.

The Yukon Municipal Board, which at that time oversaw city decision-making, pointed at bylaw 493 as grounds to allow the daycare to expand.

“Contrary to perceptions (and perhaps past practise) there is not in fact any legislated limitations on the occupancy levels of private schools, daycare centres or childcare centres,” read a Yukon Municipal Board ruling from June 1987.

After that, the daycare could expand as much as it wanted.

But, following that setback, the city made sure to remove the pesky semi-colon from that section of its zoning bylaws. Today, daycare centres in residential areas can’t expand beyond 10 people.

That makes the Love to Learn Daycare a “legal, but nonconforming land use,” said planning manager Mike Gau.

So if anyone else were to apply for a daycare with that many people in the neighbourhood now, they would be turned down, he said.

And unlike day homes, the daycare centre is allowed to operate in the house even though nobody lives there.

That’s an issue Hurst noted when he appealed the city to remove the daycare.

As it stands, the city can’t do anything to make the daycare smaller and the daycare can’t afford to relocate.

“I don’t want to hinder anyone in the neighbourhood, and have gone out of my way not to,” said Judi Wengzynowski, who operates the daycare.

A couple of people in the neighbourhood aren’t happy with the daycare, but not everybody has a problem with it, she said.

“There seems to be three neighbours in particular, but there could be more,” she said.

“I know fairly certain it’s not everybody on Pelly Street.”

Wengzynowski took on the daycare in April of 1997.

“I bought the daycare in good faith when it had already been licenced for 51 children,” she said.

“Now I feel all the flack is falling on me. Why didn’t the neighbours take their complaints up with the past owners?”

Love to Learn Daycare is one of the larger daycares in the city, but it’s not the biggest, nor is it the only one embedded in a residential neighbourhood.

There are about 38 daycares in residential areas, few of which ever get complaints from neighbours, said Yukon Childcare Association president Cyndi Desharnais.

“Childcare doesn’t belong in industrial areas,” said Desharnais.

“If people don’t want them in their neighbourhoods, where do they want them to go?”

It’s only in the last five years that Wengzynowski has felt pressure from people in the neighbourhood to move. So much so, that she has considered going to the Human Rights Board with charges of harassment.

Since the complaints started rolling in, she’s been doing everything she can to adhere to all the city’s zoning restrictions and to improve parking in the neighbourhood.

She hands out directions to new parents on how to pick up and drop off their children to avoid blocking driveways and creating bottlenecks, some of the bigger issues neighbours have complained about.

“But people are human and sometimes they’re late for work, or who knows – they make mistakes and they don’t park the right way,” she said.

“But nobody would go out of their way to purposefully block a driveway.”

The city has mediated discussions between the daycare and people living in the neighbourhood.

But that’s all it can do.

“There’s nothing that we can take action on at this time,” said Gau.

But with Hurst finishing paying off his house in a couple years, he has no plans of moving.

“If we could, we’d shell out the money for a lawyer and continue to fight this in court,” he said.

“But the way I see it, it’s a business and she’ll eventually have to retire.”

Contact Vivian Belik at