The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on July 15 unanimously rejected an appeal by 14 residents of unincorporated West Menlo Park who sought to deny a permit for a new preschool daycare in a single-family home at 3131 Alameda de las Pulgas and Manzanita Avenue. The county Planning Commission had agreed to issue the permit
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.
Elaine MacDonald, a resident with three children, said the facility belongs in the commercial zone and will alter the character of her neighborhood and affect the lives of local families and students.
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. Traffic will go up and down Manzanita and use Barney "no matter how it's set up," she said. Enjoyment of the neighborhood will be diminished for seniors, dog walkers and children, she said.
Danielle Critchley wondered how she was going to get the message to drivers. "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 onto the sidewalk. We don't have one."
A tight ship
"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."
Carol Thomsen, a backer, congratulated Toddle for succeeding in overcoming the challenges of establishing daycare, given the processes of San Mateo County.
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.
Several backers 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.
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."