Whitehorse City Council approved a request to rezone a downtown commercial property at the Days Inn to allow for a new daycare, although not without passionate and lengthy debate.
The motion to allow the rezoning for the daycare – which hopes to provide 24-hour service and already has a waitlist of 30 families – passed 5-2 at the Feb. 11 regular council meeting, with Coun. Jan Stick and Coun. Laura Cabott opposed.
The proposed daycare owner will now have to apply for development and building permits from the city and a daycare license from the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services.
Cabott’s concerns centred around access to an outdoor play area.
The proposed onsite play area, to be used by the youngest children, would be a narrow strip without greenery or landscaping 32 meters long by 2.2 meters wide. Cabott said this sounded “more like a dog run” than a place for small children to play, noting that it was primarily asphalt and “surrounded by traffic and emissions.”
“It’s a great spot for a parking lot,” she said, noting that the daycare would in fact be next to the largest parking lots in Whitehorse.
As council heard at the Feb.4 standing committees meeting, the applicant is also in discussion with the Days Inn to create a fenced play area which would be nine meters by nine meters, although plans have not been finalized.
The older children at the facility will be taken to play at Shipyards Park, 400 m away, or approximately a five minute walk. City staff said they felt this was an appropriate distance for children that age to travel. Stick and Cabott disagreed.
The distance was large for small children, Cabott said, adding that crossing four-lanes of traffic to get to the park was a serious concern for her.
“In my view that’s not suitable, practical or safe,” she said.
“I think Second Avenue is one of the least safe places for this (facility),” Stick said.
“Are we looking at zoning or are we looking at the well being of our children?”
Regarding traffic concerns, Mike Ellis, senior planner for the city, previously said the right-in/right-out access on Fourth Avenue and the full access on Second Avenue will “be sufficient to handle the increased traffic.” Cabott was unconvinced.
She pointed out that the site of the proposed daycare was in an area “designed and built… for cars, trucks and traffic,” as well as the commercial retail businesses already operating in the area and that design was “working well” without the rezoning.
Although he agreed the spot wasn’t perfect, the “acute and urgent need for childcare facilities in the area” outweighed the concerns about its location, Coun. Stephen Roddick said.
There is only one other 24-hour daycare in the city, he said, a service which is essential to parents who do shift work.
Moreover, he added, the city’s “existing zoning bylaws are getting quite outdated.”
The applicant has multiple other daycares operating in the city, Mayor Dan Curtis noted, and is a trusted child care provider for many parents already.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said she realized the site wasn’t ideal, but pointed out that “we don’t live in an ideal world.”
Many existing daycares in the city do not have attached outdoor play areas on site, Curteanu pointed out, adding that families on the waitlist had chosen to trust their kids to the business, a sentiment echoed by several other councillors.
“The reality is that parents need to get to work,” Curteanu said. “This is one of the causes of poverty, that (parents) can’t go out and earn a living for their kids.”
Who am I to tell parents where to put their kids?”
Contact Lori Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org