Jacksonville day care opens near transitional house with sex offenders

Action News Jax at 5:30 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A local day care opened in a neighborhood surrounded with registered sex offenders and predators.

An Action News Jax investigation found people convicted of sex crimes now live less than 1,000 feet from Bella Childcare, which started enrolling children in January.

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A viewer, who didn’t want to give his name, reached out to Action News Jax to express concerns because he provides transitional housing for sex offenders nearby.

The transitional house is on Walnut St., which is right around the corner from Bella Childcare.

The City of Jacksonville said sex offenders are not subject to distance requirements.

Per Chapter 685 of the City Ordinance Code, sexual predators are subject to the 2,500-foot distance requirements from certain uses such as day care facilities and schools.

That’s almost triple the distance of the state's requirement, which is 1,000 feet for offenders and predators.

The COJ said the property on Westlake Ave. has been used as a day care facility on and off since at least 2001 when the Planning Commission granted a zoning exception.

The Planning Commission granted a zoning exception and variance in April 2019, so the property could resume use as a day care facility.

According to the city, Bella Childcare filed a variance to reduce the required 2,500-foot separation down to 285.

The Planning Department said it had concerns and recommended denial because of the proximity of a registered sexual predator on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement registry.

However, the day care operator testified to the Planning Commission that the registered sexual predator on Peachtree Street was incarcerated and no longer lived nearby.

The COJ said the check of the FDLE Sexual Offender and Predator System indicates the sexual predator remains behind bars.

Based on the FDLE site, there are three registered sexual offenders at the transitional house on Walnut Street. There are no registered sexual predators at the address.

The closest registered predator to the day care facility lives on Plateau Street, about one-half mile from the day care facility.

The city said there are no zoning requirements regarding sexual offenders.

The only zoning requirement related to sexual predators is that new day care facilities cannot located within 2,500 feet of the address of a registered sexual predator.

Though, it is possible to seek a variance to reduce the distance requirement, like Bella Childcare did.

Action News Jax stopped by the day care.

Marina Zon didn’t want to go on camera, but told Action News Jax she was aware the property is within 1,000 feet of sexual offenders.

The owner assured parents she watches the kids closely, and plans to add surveillance cameras as an extra precaution.