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A local day care center remains open after a town error from more than 20 years ago threatened its closure.

Claire Tayman Parker, owner of Claire’s Day Care at 700 Charles St., went before the La Plata Board of Appeals last week to hear whether her center would be able to continue to operate as it has since the 1970s.

When the center opened its doors in 1977, it received a special exception from the town to operate a day care in a residence.

A special exception permits property owners to operate a specific use in an area in which it is normally not permitted. A board of zppeals decides whether to grant an exception based on requirements in the zoning ordinance and subject to conditions the board can apply.

The exception had expired because Parker leased her property in 2010 after her husband became ill.

The original exception included the conditions that the exception would expire if the property were leased or remained vacant for six months.

The board reinstated her special exception Thursday, permitting her to operate the day care with up to 20 children, as permitted in 1986.

The decision also keeps in effect the lease and vacancy conditions approved in 1977.

After regaining the business this year, Parker went before the appeals board in August to reinstate her exception only to learn from town staff that the town’s Board of Appeals erred in granting the exception in 1977 and she was at risk of losing the center altogether.

According to the town staff report for the case, staff recommended that the board not allow her to continue operating her business because in 1977 the town’s zoning code required owners of day care centers that receive special exceptions in the R-8 zone to reside at the property. Parker did not reside at the property in 1977, according to the town staff’s report.

Parker currently resides in Indian Head.

Today, the zoning code permits child care centers in residential zones that are on an established church or school property, according to the town’s staff report. Claire’s Day Care is not on either.

Board of Appeals member Burkey W. Boggs said the board recognized that many mistakes were made “from 1977 all the way through this whole process.”

He said there seems to have been chances to rectify the situation many times, but the town never did so.

Before last week’s decision, Parker’s attorney Tom Mudd of Mudd, Mudd & Fitzgerald in La Plata said the day care center should be considered a nonconforming use, meaning that the use does not conform to zoning laws but is allowed to continue to operate.

The board did not go for the nonconforming use argument but approved the day care center’s special exception, including the conditions as set forth in the board’s 1986 decision.

In 1986, Parker requested an expansion allowing for 20 children to attend the center, which was granted.

La Plata Town Council member Paddy Mudd showed up to speak on behalf of Parker last week only to discover the record had been closed and no more testimony would be accepted.

Paddy Mudd was informed that an opportunity for public input was offered in October and nobody came forward.

She argued that the agenda specifically stated a continuance of the public hearing, but the town attorney said the continuance was for deliberation and a decision.

Paddy Mudd said later that the whole situation is “ridiculous.” She noted that while she felt neither town staff nor the Board of Appeals had done anything wrong, the matter was simply “a small town turning into a big town.”

She said Parker has been in operation for more than 30 years with no problems until now.

Parker said with that decision, she cannot rent the location or sell it as a day care.

Board Chairman Fred Curry said, “We have granted you exactly what you asked for.”

In a later interview, Parker agreed the board granted her what she asked for and is happy the center remains open.

“I want a business there, I want to continue that,” she said.

Parker said she would continue to go to the center “and keep on doing what I’m doing.”

The decision concludes more than three months of proceedings on the day care center. On Aug. 23, the board permitted Parker to take 60 days to gather additional arguments in the case. There was only one board member at the Oct. 25 meeting who knew the case details, so the board agreed to continue the meeting Nov. 8.