After vigorous City Council debate, permit for downtown daycare advances

daycare
The back of the building and the alley behind the proposed new location for Kidz Drop In is seen Tuesday. (Elmhurst Titan photo by Dave Lemery)

ELMHURST – Polite, but slightly peeved, might be a good way to describe it.

The debate at Monday night’s Elmhurst City Council meeting was both strained and restrained as council members went back and forth while discussing the proposed move of a daycare center to a downtown location adjacent to City Hall.

The term “common sense” was used by both sides of the debate as three camps emerged over the course of a four-hour long meeting: Those clearly in favor of the move, those clearly against, and those struggling with weighing the arguments.

Ultimately, a motion to approve Alderman Michael Honquest’s minority report opposing the Kids Drop In daycare move was rejected on an 8-5 vote, with one abstention; a subsequent vote to back the majority report from Development, Planning and Zoning Committee Chairman Scott Levin and Mark Mulliner, who supported the daycare move, was approved on a 9-4 vote.

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Final approval of the conditional use permit for the daycare to locate at 187-195 N. York St. is expected to take place at the council’s March 20 meeting.

Aside from Alderman Patrick Wagner, who was absent, every alderman gave a statement before the vote on the minority report, including Chris Healy, who was out of town and called into the meeting to participate via phone.

Safety concerns?

While no one spoke against the business itself, nor against the idea of the daycare relocating to the downtown area, opposition centered on the specific location and perceived safety concerns related to children being picked up and dropped off from that building.

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Levin spoke at length in support of allowing the permit to Kidz Drop In, saying the council should defer to traffic studies that showed a negligible impact from the move.

“I recognize safety, traffic safety, is the ultimate issue,” Levin said. “We can look at the process the way it’s supposed to be and make a decision based on the data. … I’ve spent literally days on this. I wouldn’t recommend it if there was a safety issue.”

Honquest, on the other hand, insisted that objections raised by city staff, including the police chief and fire chief, indicated that safety concerns had not been adequately dealt with.

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“We brought in the police chief, the fire chief, the city engineer, both city manager and assistant city manager, and all unanimously were against this use,” Honquest said. “And that’s what it is, it’s a use of this particular location. It’s not a vote against a daycare.”

Honquest said that most objections related to the proposed access to the daycare through the alley that runs behind the building and City Hall.

“We’ve all experienced this alley,” he said. “It’s small, it’s tight … it’s a traffic concern. … I agree with staff and with the [Zoning and Planning] Commission that this is not a good use for this particular location.”

Levin also talked about the Zoning and Planning Commission‘s opposition to the permit for the daycare, which was represented in a 4-3 vote. He said that before the topic reached his own committee, the idea of drop-offs and pickups taking place on York Street – in addition to the rear access through the alley – hadn’t even been considered, and thus the commission’s vote should be taken less into account than it otherwise would be.

Business model

Even after it became clear that Levin’s majority report was going to be approved, resolution appeared elusive as Alderman Dannee Polomsky attempted to craft a motion to ensure that Kidz Drop In would stick to its current business models. One of the key aspects of the Kidz Drop In proposal that appeared to be persuasive to aldermen on the fence was the fact that it doesn’t generally have the set dropoff and pickup times of a traditional daycare.

Polomsky and several others seemed to be concerned that once the permit was granted, subsequent owners of the business might opt to switch to a traditional daycare setup, thereby creating excessive congestion and safety risk around City Hall.

“I think if this council’s going to approve a daycare, I think we’re muddying it up a little bit.”

As Mayor Steven Morley intervened to try to help craft the motion, he found himself atypically jumping into the debate as the council discussed whether to tie the permit to the property, to the owner or to even define the specific business model of Kidz Drop In. Owing perhaps to the late hour, several aldermen seemed unclear how the motion would actually be applied, and Morley became much more direct.

“I think if this council’s going to approve a daycare, I think we’re muddying it up a little bit,” Morley said. “As council and audience are aware, I normally do not speak, I’m just trying to clarify [the changes being contemplated].”

Ultimately the attempt to restrict the permit was abandoned, and the Zoning Committee’s majority report was approved.

How they voted

Voting in favor of the minority report to oppose the Kidz Drop In permit were Healy, Honquest, Norman Leader, Mark Sabatino and Kevin York. Voting for the majority report in favor of Kidz Drop In were Michael Bram, Marti Deuter, Bob Dunn, Jim Kennedy, Levin, Healy, Mulliner, Polomsky and Noel Talluto.

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