Almanac

News - February 26, 2014

Daycare center opponents appeal county' decision

by Dave Boyce

Opponents of a plan to open a 24-child daycare center in a residential area of West Menlo Park say they are already in the process of appealing a decision by the San Mateo County Planning Commission to approve a permit for the center.

Peter MacDonald, who lives near the site of the proposed center in a single-family home at 3131 Alameda de las Pulgas, says the opponents will appeal the 5-0 decision to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

The commission on Feb. 12 approved the use permit to convert the home into a daycare center for up to 24 preschool children. Unlike whole-day facilities, Toddle LLC would require reservations and schedule drop-offs and pick-ups hour-by-hour throughout the day.

The proposal divided the neighborhood. At the commission meeting, some residents noted the benefits such childcare would bring for families with small children. Others argued that the noise and traffic would disrupt the peaceful environment.

Commissioners said they were cognizant of neighbors' concerns. To reduce noise, the permit will allow a high fence and dense landscaping, Commissioner Laurie Simonson said. The permit builds in flexibility for the center and its neighbors to work things out on their own, she said. As for traffic, the permit establishes a limit of two child drop-offs per 12-minute period and no more than 10 drop-offs per hour.

"Most of the children who use this facility will be walking to this facility," Commissioner Frederick Hansson said. "I personally think it will be an asset to this neighborhood."

Ms. Simonson added: "If you're bringing your kid to this facility and you're three blocks away and in a car, there's something wrong with that picture," she said. "Hopefully, this is a neighborhood service."

Heather Hopkins, co-owner of the childcare center and a resident who lives three blocks away, said she believes the center would be consistent with the neighborhood's character. And while there are four preschool daycare centers within a mile of the site, short-term, reservation-based daycare is available only in San Francisco and San Jose, she said.

For parents who work at home and have varying schedules, finding a nanny or babysitter is difficult, Ms. Hopkins said. In Silicon Valley, extended family members are often not available. "It's just become a cultural need," she said. "There's a shortage of childcare in general."

To avoid concentrated traffic, arrivals and departures would be staggered from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Most childcare centers "have operated seamlessly for decades in their neighborhoods," Ms. Hopkins said. "At the end of the day, these childcare centers usually go on to become beloved community institutions."

"Of course she's going to say that," Mr. MacDonald told the Almanac. Ten drop-offs or pick-ups per hour could add up to 80 trips per day, he noted. "That changes the neighborhood," he said. "That's not why we moved here. ... We want a residential neighborhood to stay residential."

Customers would avoid Alameda and use side streets because they're viewed as safer, Mr. MacDonald said. "The vast, vast majority" of opponents would support a 12-child facility, half of the size of the one approved, he added.

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