In July, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a use permit for Bright Angel Montessori Academy. The decision was then challenged, leaving the council to make the final decision. The site is zoned for commercial uses, a factor which seemed to weigh the votes in favor of the permit.
The design as proposed by school founders MeiLing Huang and Joe Wyffels consists of two 925-square-foot classrooms with adjunct staff rooms, and a 1,600-square-foot outdoor playground enclosed by a wooden fence. The school must pay the city $71,842 in review and traffic-impact fees.
Kindergarten teacher Brynn Cahill, who lives across the street from the site and filed the appeal, told the council that the Planning Commission's decision had been swayed by emotion rather than facts. She said her research showed that Menlo Park currently has more preschools per capita than any city on the Peninsula.
"Nine currently have openings for students. That is a fact," she said. Ms. Cahill also challenged the school's plan to implement staggered start times to manage traffic, the number of parking spaces required, and the projected noise levels.
Other businesses, such as a barber shop or dry cleaner, would be welcome, according to Ms. Cahill. A preschool "would be an undeniable nuisance" and its daytime traffic would compromise the safety of children and residents.
Some neighbors spoke in support of Ms. Cahill's appeal — at least 17 had signed a petition — while others supported the academy, including parents who looked forward to having a preschool within walking distance of home.
"I know the person speaking before me against the preschool gave you some statistics," one mother said, then presented her own. "Because I would like to enter the business, I called all the preschools and they all have waitlists. They could have an opening for a 3-year-old, and maybe you have a 2-year-old."
Councilman Peter Ohtaki made a motion to deny the appeal. "I listened carefully to concerns expressed ... at the same time I also get concerned about regulating businesses that might serve a useful purpose in Menlo Park."
"This is really a case of competing values," Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson commented. "I guess it's up to us to weigh these factors and make our best judgment."
She seconded the motion, noting that she didn't think there was "enough weight of evidence" to find that the school would be detrimental to the community, particularly considering projected demographic pressures as Menlo Park continues to grow and add to the school-age population.
The council voted 4-0 to allow the preschool to go forward, with officials urging residents to let the city know about any problems that could be resolved through techniques such as traffic calming.
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