The Albemarle County Planning Commission spent two hours at their meeting on August 19, 2008, debating whether the Four Seasons Learning Center near Rio Road should be granted a special use permit that would allow it to expand. Nearby residents urged the Commission to deny the request, while parents whose children are enrolled in the center pleaded for the permit to be allowed so that the Center can continue to keep their tuition rates low.
The center is located at the corner of Four Seasons and Lakeview Drive, within the County’s urban ring. The owners of Four Seasons, Barbara and
Sliwinski, sought permission to expand to sixty-four children. Forty are allowed today. The item first came before the Planning Commission on June 24, 2008, but was deferred after the applicant agreed to conduct a traffic study. Senior Planner Elaine Echols said the applicant’s study did not meet the County’s expectations.
“The applicant provided a study based on vehicles per hour in the peak hour, and we had analyzed it based on vehicles per day,” Echols said. “The applicant also confirmed that there was a total of six staff members at the facility and that meant that parking could be provided both on and off street.”
County Engineer Glenn Brooks calculated that the existing enrollment generates 84 trips during peak hours, and the proposed expansion would generate 123 trips during peak hour. Echols said she is also concerned that the entrance to the facility is too close to the intersection of Four Seasons and Lakeview Drives, and that the expanded daycare may be too large for the existing neighborhood. There are 19 homes on Lake View Drive, a cul-de-sac built as part of the Four Seasons development.
Echols acknowledged that the community needs access to affordable day care centers, but recommended that the Planning Commission deny the permit.
“We think that the factors unfavorable outweigh the factors favorable,” Echols said. “We think that the additional students and the number of vehicle trips that are going to be added to this neighborhood street is going to have a negative impact on the neighborhood.”
Attorney John Simpson represented the Four Seasons Learning Center before the Commission. He said his client deserved a “fair shake” and he disputed the traffic data provided by Brooks.
“The facts that support the Planning Department’s opinions and conclusions about the traffic impact have been horribly distorted, not just today, but the last time we were here as well,” Simpson said. Raina Rosado conducted the traffic study for Four Seasons, and insisted that in the worst case scenario, the expanded day care would generate 52 trips during peak hours. Additionally, Rosado said the County did not request a full traffic study that would look at the entire area.
“What hasn’t been done here is that you haven’t analyzed the intersection. You’ve just used these numbers to say [Four Seasons] is going from 30 trips [during peak hour] to 50 trips,” Rosado.
Comments during the public hearing were split between neighbors and parents of children enrolled in Four Seasons. Jan Sprinkle has lived on Lakeview Drive for 21 years, and said she frequently experiences the worse-case scenario.
“For me the worst case is if all the children do arrive in that hour, and they’re all in individual cars, right now you’ve got 40 trips in and 40 trips out… if you increase it to 64, then you’re going to jump 100 trips every day,” Sprinkle said. She also pointed out that VDOT has prohibited parking on Four Seasons Drive adjacent to the day care facility because sight lines at the intersection would be obstructed, and asked that if the Commission did decide to grant the expansion, the center should provide parking for all of its employees.
Steve Harris also lives on Lakeview Drive, and says that parking is a major issue. “In addition to the level of traffic coming and going throughout the day, we must endure the constant battle for on-street parking, frequent lack of mail delivery as a result of blocked mailboxes, increased noise, and what I call an us-versus-them mentality.”
Rafal Kalemba has a child enrolled in the Center. He said many people in the community are desperate for affordable day care inside the urban ring of the County.
“It seems from the previous meetings that a small number of people in the community are keeping a large number of the rest of the people from having access to this affordable child care,” Kalemba said.
Parent Gary Hawthorne took his daughter Isabelle to the podium to tell the Commission that he walks her to day care every day, and he said allowing the daycare to expand would keep tuition low. Another parent, Shannon Lauritzen said she has never had a problem trying to drop off her son.
“At every time that I have taken my son in and out, I have never incurred a problem,” Lauritzen said. However, she said she would not be able to do that if all employees are required to park on-site.
Lauren Root is a pre-kindergarten teacher and assistant director of the Four Seasons Learning Center.
She said there is a crucial need for more daycare slots in Albemarle County.
“Every day I receive on average five to seven calls for parents looking for quality, affordable child care,” Root said. “There are simply not enough quality affordable centers in our area. This is a problem because if a parent does not have child care they cannot go to work.”
Root also addressed the parking situation.
“Several of the people who do live on Lakeview Drive have two and three vehicles. They also each have a driveway. I have seen them deliberately park their cars on the street, even in front of our daycare center in an attempt to not allow us to park our cars,” Root said.
During their deliberation, members of the Planning Commission were sympathetic to the neighbors as well as the owners of the facility. Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) said that the Neighborhood Model calls for businesses such as day cares to be in residential communities, but that the Four Seasons Development predates that.
“This neighborhood was done, what, in the early 1980’s, and at that time it was very progressive because there were a lot of different uses in Four Seasons,” Joseph said. “I think that now we’re a little bit more careful about where we’re placing these things. We want to make sure that the roads can handle it, that the intersections can handle it,” she said. Joseph also pointed out that the ACAC’s aquatic facility on Four Seasons Drive also generates traffic, so the Commission needed to take that into consideration.
Joseph also said she did not buy the argument that more students would allow the Sliwinski’s to keep tuition low. “I do think that this site is too small to support that many more children, because of that, I can’t support it.” Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) agreed with Joseph, and said that the expansion would increase tensions between day care parents and the neighborhood.
However, Chairman Cal Morris (Rivanna) said the site itself could accommodate the 64 requested, except for the traffic impacts. Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) said he wanted to continue to encourage mixed uses in the area, and suggested he could support the special use permit if design changes were made.
“There are lots of ways that some of these issues could be resolved, from a design point of view, “ Edgerton said. “There’d be a way of maybe collecting students at a different location and then bringing them over in a shuttle.” Edgerton also recommended that all employees be required to park on-site, and be prevented from using on-street parking.
Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) said he was concerned that might take up space that is currently used by parents to drop off their children.
“That might exacerbate other problems and maybe even put children in danger, so I’m not without understanding more I’m not sure if I’m persuaded that that’s a viable solution,” Cannon said.
The Learning Center currently has enough space for nine on-site parking spaces, as well as four spaces on Lakeview Drive. Wayne Cilimberg, Albemarle County’s Director of Planning, described how those spaces are currently utilized.
“Parents come and go, so I think what the applicant wants to do is provide the most amount of spaces… if you get eight parents there, or eight kids coming at one time in a car, they want to have as many spaces on the site to drop them off rather than having them dropped off on the street, so it’s a trade-off in terms of whether you feel like if this is to be supported you want to see the employees parked on site with less accommodation of the drop-offs,” Cilimberg said.
Krystoff Sliwinski, the owner of the center, said he would be willing to accept the condition to require all employees on-site, but said he could not have a staff member shepherd each student from car to the center’s front door.
“This is against the state license because the parents have to come inside with the children, sign them up, leave the child and get out,” Sliwinski said.
Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said she could not support 64 students, but said she could support it if the amount were lowered. The Sliwinskis suggested they could go as low as 58 students. Edgerton suggested a compromise.
“I am convinced from the staff report that this facility can accommodate that much of an increase with the condition that the number be dropped down to 50 and with the condition that all staff be required to park on-site,” he said, and then made a motion reflecting the compromise. However, Deputy County Attorney
Greg Kamptner pointed out that under County zoning, the applicant has to provide at least one on-site parking space per ten children, meaning they could not satisfy the second condition.
“It is part of our parking regulations for day care centers, it’s one-space per 10 children enrolled in the major class or shift plus one space per employee,” Kamptner said. “And the standard also requires that a pick-up and drop-off area shall be provided on the site.”
The vote on Edgerton’s motion was 5-2 with Commissioners Strucko and Joseph voting against. The item will go before the Board of Supervisors on October 8, 2008. If they follow the Commission’s recommendation, Elaine Echols told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the issue of parking
would have to be worked out with the zoning administrator.