County supervisors recently added momentum to plans to proceed with a daycare center in West Menlo Park, one designed for parents with busy and varied schedules.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on July 15 unanimously rejected an appeal by 14 residents of unincorporated West Menlo Park. The residents sought to overturn a Planning Commission decision to issue a use permit for the new preschool daycare, located in a single-family home at 3131 Alameda de las Pulgas at Manzanita Avenue.
The board's decision gives the green light to Toddle LLC, a Menlo Park company, to proceed with a minor remodel of the home.
The Almanac was unable to reach Peter MacDonald, who led the appeal, for comment on the board's decision.
The new center, Toddle, will accommodate up to 24 children from ages 2 to 6. Unlike whole-day facilities, Toddle will take children by the hour.
Reservations will be required and will involve a computer to schedule staggered drop-offs and pickups on an hour-by-hour basis, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Parking will be available on the Alameda and in the driveway.
The staggered scheduling is meant to address concerns raised by the local community about increasing traffic on quiet, narrow side-streets that often function as sidewalks and playgrounds for families in the area.
Among the conditions of the permit are that daycare customers sign contracts agreeing to use Alameda and Manzanita Avenue to get to and depart from the daycare center -- and to not use Barney Avenue, a dead-end street that offers a back way to Valparaiso Avenue, but is frequented by walkers, bikers and kids on scooters.
Drop-offs and pickups will be restricted to no more than two during a 12-minute period. Parking is restricted to not more than 10 minutes.
Some 120 local residents signed a petition opposing the project. Along with traffic issues, the residents expressed concerns over noise and over allowing a commercial enterprise to set up shop in a residential area.
Initially, the comments were split evenly in terms of support and opposition, but supporters predominated as the comment period wore on.
Elaine MacDonald, a resident with three children, said the facility belongs in the commercial zone "down the street," in the area of the Dutch Goose.
"Why," Ms. MacDonald asked the board, "should the Planning Commission need to grant a commercial use permit exception in a residential neighborhood, altering the neighborhood character, affecting the lives not only of the families living there but of all the students that need to walk (through) this area to get to school." Toddle, she said, "can operate very successfully in a bona fide commercial zone?"
"If anyone can run a tight ship, it's Heather and Amy," said Ashley Riley, referring to Toddle co-owners Heather Hopkins and Amy Burnett. "I have no doubt they will run a carefully monitored business that will be treasured by the entire neighborhood."
Eric Jester, a project opponent, proposed a 12-child facility, at least to start, arguing that it would be easier to allow more children later than to allow fewer.
Kathy Schoendorf, a resident from across the street from the proposed facility, focused on the traffic impact. "No matter how it's set up, those cars are going to be coming down Manzanita and going along Barney and I think that's going to really affect the kids that are on the street." And not just kids, she added, but seniors walking their dogs and "ladies with walkers who want to get out and enjoy the neighborhood."
Carol Thomsen, who backs the new center, congratulated Toddle for succeeding in a challenging environment. "If, as a county, we truly support opportunities for early childhood education, we need to support operators who have thoughtfully overcome the many hurdles that are present in this process."
Danielle Critchley wondered how she was going to get the message to parents in vehicles on the importance of safety. "How do I communicate to those 164 trips (the anticipated total) that are most likely going to flow down Manzanita of the importance of driving carefully and slowly and cautiously, because I can't tell the kids to move on to the sidewalk. We don't have one."
Similarly, the streets have no shoulders for parking, she said. Customer parking on the street would transform Manzanita into a one-lane street, she said. "That makes me very nervous and it scares me."
Courtney Charney, a real estate agent with a 3-year-old daughter, said local daycare will improve the community and increase the desirability of living there. "I'm acutely aware of how few choices a parent has for childcare facilities in Menlo Park," she said. "There simply are not as many preschool or part-time daycare spots as the current population of children under the age of 6 require."
Several people noted that opponents of daycare in residential neighborhoods tend to make the same arguments every time and that they turn out to be unproven as time goes on. "There really is no evidence of a problem," said Robert Most, a resident of the Alameda.
In the end, the board made small changes to the original proposal. The board agreed to review the operation after six months and to study the possibility of a loading-zone area on the Alameda, an idea proposed by Supervisor Don Horsley.
"I'm hopeful and I'm fairly confident that the impacts will be minimal," said board President Dave Pine. "If there are occurrences when these standards are not met, I think we will hear about it and I think the applicant will (have a strong incentive) to make sure that it stops. ... This need for daycare and childcare is so critical to our community."