'Common sense overrides safety' concerns about Elmhurst day care

An Elmhurst day care center has moved one big step closer to the downtown location it hopes to call home.

City council members gave preliminary approval to Kidz Drop In's plan to move to a long-vacant building just south of city hall, where owner Kasindra Dayton says she wants to open an organic and environmentally friendly facility where parents can take kids during extended hours.

While deliberation swirled about drop-off and pickup safety, alley access for emergency vehicles, fair treatment of business applicants, and even the process by which staff members' concerns were brought forward and reviewed, nine of 14 council members voted to move the proposal forward. Four others voted against the plan and one was absent.

Those in favor say the majority of the 75 children expected to receive care at the proposed facility would be babies or toddlers, carried in by their parents and not free to walk on their own and potentially interfere with drivers.

Plus, they say the business pitched for 187-195 N. York St. has made safety upgrades by including entrances on both the alley and York Street sides and by adding a 6-foot-wide sidewalk to help parents move between seven parking spaces in the alley and the back entrance.

"I believe these parents have common sense," Alderman Mark Mulliner said about day care customers, several of whom spoke in favor of the proposal in front of the council Monday. "There are times when common sense overrides safety."

The city's police and fire chiefs said last week the plans don't meet safety standards because the vehicles of parents dropping off and picking up children in the alley could limit emergency access.

If the day care opens, traffic likely will increase in the alley, with as many as one extra vehicle every 40 to 50 seconds during peak drop-off and pickup hours of 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., according to a traffic study conducted by Civiltech Engineering.

Jim Woods, who conducted the traffic study for Civiltech, said 45 seconds is "really a very long time for someone to make a parking maneuver," but Elmhurst Fire Chief Thomas Freeman called the potential alley traffic increase a "huge detriment to fire protection."

Several speakers said the same concerns with alley traffic and sight lines would arise no matter the type of business that opens in the space.

The city is reviewing the Kidz Drop In proposal because day care facilities require a conditional use permit to open in the downtown C4 zoning district in which the property lies. But if a restaurant or dance studio were proposed, it could open without city scrutiny and still pose the same safety worries, said John Quigley, president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

"If indeed there is a problem with this alley, then it is incumbent on the city to rectify that problem," Quigley said, "not for any certain business and not for this applicant to deal with."

Four aldermen agreed with staff safety concerns about the day care plan, voting to recommend denial of its relocation request when a conditional use ordinance is put to a final vote March 20.

"Despite all the safety measures that the applicant is willing to incorporate, it's still an alley," Alderman Mark Sabatino said. "And I just can't see a day care facility located off an alley. It makes no sense to me."

Plans for the downtown day care call for a 4,900-square-foot facility with an outdoor nature play space on the east side, between the building and the alley. Kidz Drop In could move from its current location at 602 N. Michigan St. on the city's north side if the plan is granted final approval.

Elmhurst debates safety, traffic concerns of downtown day care proposal

  This vacant storefront south of Elmhurst City Hall could be home to a day care facility if the city council gives the plan final approval March 20. It was granted an early OK by a 9-4 vote with one alderman absent, but some say the day care's potential back entrance off an alley creates safety concerns. Bev Horne/
  Kidz Drop In wants to move its Elmhurst day care from 602 N. Michigan St. on the city's north side to 187-195 N. York St. in downtown. The city council could grant final approval to its request during a meeting March 20. Bev Horne/
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