FOREST PARK — A zoning ordinance that would allow farm stands at a day care center in Forest Park passed 4-1 Monday. Councilman Dabouze Antoine voted no, saying he was concerned a farm stand at the day care might attract pedophiles and human traffickers who would visit under the pretense of shopping for produce. Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells said she had planned to vote against the ordinance but was persuaded to vote yes by its supporters.
About 25 backers of Little Ones Learning Center’s farm stand, including State Rep. Sandra Scott, D-Rex, showed up to speak in favor of the ordinance. No one spoke in opposition.
The change comes after the city shut down the award-winning Little Ones Learning Center farm stand last year. The day care was selling produce that it had grown, along with produce from nearby farms. News of the shutdown garnered international media attention. Critics had claimed that parking was an issue.
However, the day care’s owner, Olutoyin Okunore, said there had never been any issues with parking related to the farm stand and that only Councilman Hector Gutierrez had come to see what the school was doing with its educational farm. The school’s Jazmine Green Memorial Garden is dedicated to the memory of a child who died after being left in a hot day care van in 2011.
“We want to have a healthy community,” Okunore said. “Forest Park, Clayton County, if we keep getting obstacles like this, we’re going to be at the bottom.”
Mayor Angelyne Butler said that there had been two versions of the ordinance, “the ordinance that the Planning Commission unanimously approved, but then there was one that followed, that was e-mailed afterwards.”
City Attorney Mike Williams said, “The one that the Planning Commission approved, the applicant is going to be requesting a couple of modifications during the hearing, so I’ll leave it to them to relay those.”
The public packet posted to the city’s website before the meeting included one version of the ordinance.
Stating his opposition to the ordinance, Antoine said, “We do not want sex offenders, we do not want human trafficking that goes on within this city of Forest Park and putting our police officers in a dangerous place. If you want to open up a fruit stand, we have places on Main Street. If you want violence or kidnapping and human trafficking, which is big in Atlanta, by the way, you give permission to these places to open up what’s supposed to be a day care, and you invite people that maybe can’t handle being around kids.”
Georgia law prohibits convicted sex offenders from living or working within 1,000 feet of child care centers, churches or schools. It also bans them from loitering “at any child care facility, school, or area where minors congregate.” A check of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Sex Offender Registry found no registered sex offenders within the 1-mile radius around Little Ones Learning Center.
Backers of the ordinance said they thought Antoine’s concerns were unfounded.
“This is a zoning ordinance,” Okunore said. “They are approving all the go-go dancers and everything. We are not making money .... It is not a business. You know what? This is good for the kids.”
Christa Leonard, an urban farmer with Greenleaf Commuity Farms, drives her son Huck, 3, “30 minutes specifically to this school to support their mission.” She pointed out that farm stands meet a food desert need that the State Farmers Market cannot. “It doesn’t have to be a change in zoning. It’s an overlay that can be passed.”
Leonard also said she was offended by Antoine’s comments. “I took that very personally, coming from somebody from abuse, and it’s actually statistically proven that any sort of abuse, especially typically on pedophiles, is typically within the family or somebody the family knows. I have never felt safer in a school environment as I do with Little Ones .... Why is this an issue?”
Councilwoman Kimberly James pointed out that the ordinance “has nothing to do with the day care center. This is for the city in itself.” She added that Little Ones would have to come before council for a conditional use permit to run its stand.
The ordinance would allow temporary farm stands to sell fruits, vegetables and field crops from sustainable farmers within a 50-mile radius but no livestock or livestock products. Each stand must keep records of where its produce came from, have at least two parking spaces for every 200 feet of selling area, not block sidewalks, and follow existing city sign codes.
It also would not allow farm stands within a mile of each other, although it’s possible a zoning variance could be granted on a case-by-case basis.
Before the vote, State Rep. Valencia Stovall, who has backed Little Ones’ farm stand, said, “I don’t think it should have had a limit on the 1-mile radius because a lot of early learning centers are less than 1 mile apart. It [the ordinance] should have stated ‘for educational purposes.’”
Mayor Butler said, “I have always supported Little Ones Learning Center and their farm stand. I am pleased both sides were able to amicably work together towards a reciprocal resolution. It’s a new day in Forest Park!”