A martial arts studio on Quarry Lane has been shut down indefinitely after the Planning Commission ruled 5-0 its owner would need to get a child care license before it would consider it.
The Tri-Valley Martial Arts Academy shuttered last month after the city determined that the scope of operations at the studio were different than what owner John Pfund described to them initially.
The business, located at 1262-A Quarry Lane, opened last July after it obtained what the city termed an "over the counter" zoning certificate. But the city soon realized that a new law that went into effect the same month meant the studio needed a conditional use permit, and they contacted the studio to correct the mistake. After a back-and-forth battle, city staff recommended that the commission deny the permit because the martial arts activities resembled more of a day care than and after school program.
The decision was crushing to Pfund, who said his passion for life comes from teaching youths the principles of martial arts.
"I've wanted to do this since I was 10 years old," he said.
"I've never told anyone it's a day care," Pfund said. "I don't provide supervision or care."
Pfund said his studio is no different than after school gymnastics, dance and swim programs and should be considered by the same rules.
Parents of children who went to the martial arts school agreed with Pfund, reiterating that he never told them it was a day care and that they never considered it one. The Tri-Valley Martial Arts Academy has left an indelible mark in their children's lives, they said.
"My 5-year-old daughter has really come out of her shell," said parent Amy Fluker.
Another mother said she was amazed at what her son learned about respect in such a small amount of time.
At the Wednesday meeting, commissioners said while they have no hesitations that Pfund is a great leader and role model to the children he teaches and that the martial arts program was exceptional, it didn't erase the fact that the longer hours of operation and regimented daily schedule falls into a day care category, which requires a state child care license.
"I have no doubt that John's a good teacher," Commissioner Jennifer Pearce said. "I'd like to see this succeed, but the way it's currently structured, I can't support it."
Commissioner Arne Olson added that the studio's practice of picking children up from school gives more of an element of care.
"The way to solve this would be to get a license," he said.
Pfund had been operating Tri-Valley Martial Arts under a 'free to come and go' policy--meaning students weren't required to be signed in and out by their parents which is how a day care would operate. But the city has a policy of requiring facilities to sign children in and out, according to city principal planner Donna Decker.
Under Pfund's policy, "children at any age would be free to come and go," Decker said. "Parents would sign a waiver, but the child would not be required to be signed out by an adult."
There were some inconsistencies with how the state viewed the situation. Initially, the State Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division told the city that Pfund would be required to get a child care license because children would be at the facility for more than an hour and a half and attending more than 16 hours per week. Other activities such as supervised homework also factored into the decision. However, the state revised that ruling following additional information it received from Pfund about the center's activities and determined a license wasn't necessary under an exemption that Pfund has parents sign a waiver stating the academy isn't a day care. The city said it disagrees with that decision because the exemption applies only to older children. The studio would be teaching children as young as 5 years old.
The vote commissioners made was a "denial without prejudice," which means that Pfund would be able to come back to the commission with a revised business proposal that includes a child care license. If the commission had denied the permit outright, Pfund would have to wait one year before bringing his proposal back. He has another option as well. He can appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council.