Day care proposal turned down in Grosse Pointe Park

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 4, 2018

GROSSE POINTE PARK — While Grosse Pointe Park officials acknowledged that it’s a needed service in the area, they denied a variance request for a proposed day care center at 14950 E. Jefferson Ave. because of concerns over traffic and parking.

Despite Mayor Robert Denner saying that Park resident Amy Conti — who hoped to open the day care center — had “presented some compelling evidence of the need” for this service, the council voted unanimously Nov. 19 against a variance that would have permitted the center at that location, which is zoned OS-1 office/service; day cares are usually only allowed in areas zoned B-1 local business.

Among the reasons for the denial were what officials said was a lack of adequate on-site parking and fears of congestion on busy Jefferson because of day care users making left turns into the building’s parking lot. Conti countered that her plans addressed these concerns.

City Manager Dale Krajniak said the Park Planning Commission spent about 45 minutes discussing the proposed day care at a recent meeting. Denner said that while the commission didn’t make a formal recommendation, it did ask the council to reconsider its denial of a variance in May for the day care center.

“They recognized and felt additional day care would be advantageous to the city,” Krajniak said. “They recommended that it bears further consideration.”

City Councilman Daniel Grano, an attorney, thought that the council didn’t have the authority to hear this request a second time because of the Zoning Enabling Act.

City Attorney Dennis Levasseur disagreed, saying that the act “doesn’t say anything about subsequent applications” or amended applications.

“I think the council, acting as the Zoning Board of Appeals, has the jurisdiction to handle this application,” Levasseur said. “I think it has been submitted as an application, not a request to reconsider.”

Conti acknowledged that the roughly 6,800-square-foot building at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Barrington Road was zoned for office use. She estimated enrollment of roughly 90 children, with daily attendance at around 80. The center would be open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, Conti said.

She said the west side of the property has eight parking spaces, but with renovations and the addition of a 2,200-square-foot playground, that would be reduced to five parking spaces.

The facility would be required to have 19 parking spaces. Conti’s plan showed that she could provide a total of 21 spaces when she included nine nearby on-street spots on Barrington with 12 spaces in the parking lot, but city officials still said the plan was parking deficient.

Conti said the day care would need a staff of 12 to 15.

“It would be the policy that the staff would be required to park off-site” on neighboring streets and walk to the facility, she said. Some officials expressed reservations about having employees park on neighborhood streets.

Conti pointed out that almost all new businesses that have opened in the Park in recent years have needed parking variances.

“We live in a very compact and developed community,” Conti said. “What I am proposing … is a service that is truly needed in this community.”

There are no child care facilities on the south side of the Grosse Pointes, said Conti, noting that the closest facilities are in St. Clair Shores and Grosse Pointe Woods, both of which are “inconvenient” for the many parents headed to downtown Detroit for work and who would prefer a facility closer to home and don’t have the time to drive out of their way to drop off their little ones. Of the facilities available locally, Conti said, one in St. Clair Shores had no openings for 2019.

She said she surveyed the community, and found that there was “great demand” for day care. Conti’s survey got responses from more than 200 parents — more than 100 of whom said they lived in the Park. Many of these parents reported a great need for day care close to home, especially for infants, which Conti planned to offer. Conti’s survey found that 163 children in the area need full-time care.

To prevent traffic congestion during morning drop-off and afternoon pickup, Conti said she could ask parents to follow a strict pickup and drop-off schedule, in which different groups of parents would be assigned a 10-minute window in which they would bring their child or children in the morning and retrieve them after work. She said she could also offer car-side pickup and drop-off, in which children would be accompanied to and from their parents’ vehicles by a day care staffer.

Some council members were concerned that the schedule wouldn’t work. City Councilman James Robson asked if it was “realistic,” to which Conti responded she was willing to have additional staff during drop-off and pickup times. If a time window doesn’t work for some parents, she said they could change to a different time window.

“The idea of a time frame is great, but I have three kids,” City Councilwoman Lauri Read said. “There is no way I could meet a 10-minute time window.”

Conti said that just because they anticipate 80 children at the center daily doesn’t mean they’d be seeing 80 drop-offs and pickups, because some parents have more than one child.

A traffic study prepared for Conti by Farmington Hills-based Fleis & VandenBrink determined that the peak number of morning trips would be 32 and the peak number of afternoon trips would be 27.

According to the Fleis & VandenBrink report, based on Michigan Department of Transportation guidelines, “a traffic impact assessment is required for any proposed development expected to generate between 50-99 peak hour directional trips and a traffic impact study is required for any proposed development expected to generate over 100 peak hour directional trips,” meaning that the proposed day care use wouldn’t require additional analysis.

Although vehicles can’t turn left onto Barrington because of a traffic island, Conti said they can turn left onto the business property.

The property where Conti wanted to open the day care has been for sale “for about seven years,” she said.

City Councilman Daniel Clark said there was “an established need for day care” in the area, but said Conti needed to demonstrate hardship for a variance, and he argued that she hadn’t established a hardship. He also argued that Jefferson “is a major thoroughfare,” and the day care would be “interfering with traffic flow at a time when traffic is the worst” during morning and afternoon rush hours.

 Jim Saros, a real estate professional and a 45-year Park resident, said the council had given variances to businesses with “next to no parking,” and by denying the variance, it was “missing a great opportunity.” He said the estimated 20,000 new employees in downtown Detroit are going to be looking for communities with needed services like convenient child care when they start having families.

“I’m grossly disappointed at this body,” Saros said.

Grosse Pointe Park resident Cathy Metry also supported the day care, saying it was needed and would attract young families and improve property values.

“I think it’s really unfortunate,” Metry said after the vote. “(The council) basically voted on the what-ifs. … If we don’t bring service businesses that fulfill the needs of the young generation, housing values are going to go down.”

Barrington resident Tom Podgorski was worried about traffic and parking.

“You don’t have enough parking spots,” he said.

Conti was disappointed by the council’s decision.

“I have looked at dozens of properties,” she said after the vote. “Now, it’s starting over. Maybe I have to look outside of Grosse Pointe.”