Area parents could have a new day care center by the end of the year; whether it comes at the price of a major traffic headache remains to be seen.
Earlier this month the Garner Board of Aldermen narrowly approved a special use permit allowing Klassy Kids day care to be built on a 1.3 acre lot along Benson Road just south of Timber Drive.
Approving the project in a 3-2 vote, the aldermen went against the advice of town staff and the town planning commission, both of whom recommended the board not grant the permit because it did not meet the town's development requirements for day care centers. Dissenting aldermen also said the project would lead to long traffic delays.
The public debate about the project has raised questions about how stringently the town's Unified Development Ordinance should be followed and whether it should prevent much-needed commercial development from occurring.
The proposed site is a vacant lot near the intersection of N.C. 50 and Timber Drive that has remained undeveloped for more than 15 years. It sits between the Van Story Hills Subdivision and a Burger King, which is a part of the Timber Crossing shopping center.
Garner resident Linda Powell, a real estate agent, is behind the project. She said she plans to open a five-star day care center for 150 children.
In voting unanimously against recommending the permit in March, the planning commission cited the project's failure to meet the UDO standards in a number of areas, including insufficient parking, not enough outdoor play area for each child and inadequate buffers with its neighbors.
The ordinance outlines a municipality's requirements for different kinds of development projects. In the case of Klassy Kids, the proposal met the state's design standards for day care centers but not Garner's.
After that ruling, Powell's architect, Harold Annis of HS Annis Architect, petitioned the Board of Adjustment, a separate body that can grant a project relief from town ordinances. Annis argued that the ordinances requiring a 50 foot set-back from a play area and 100 square feet of outdoor play area per child are excessive.
The board of adjustment agreed.
But the proposal also raised traffic concerns. A traffic study requested by the town predicted that traffic from the day care would create enough delays at the nearby intersection to classify it as a level F, the state Department of Transporation's lowest rating. The project proposal also had two fewer parking spaces than required by the town.
Alderman Ronnie Williams, who voted for the permit, said he took the traffic concerns seriously, noting that the board made approval contingent on Powell being granted an access easement into the shopping center's parking lot. This would prevent some traffic from exiting onto N.C. 50.
Williams said he is worried that some of the town's development requirements are making some property off limits to development.
"I have reservations about ordinances making land undevelopable," he said.
Williams said the town needs to collect more tax revenues from commercial businesses, and his vote reflected that need.
Alderman Gra Singleton, who was one of the two aldermen to vote against issuing the permit, said placing a 10,500-square-foot day care facility on a 1.3 acre lot makes no sense.
"The project is not appropriate for the property; it's too big," Singleton said. "The traffic will be a nightmare."
Singleton said there are more appropriate locations in Garner to place a day care, and that there was no reason to ignore the recommendations of town planners and the requirements of the UDO.
"You've got your staff and planning commission there for a reason," he said. "It's not fair to other projects."
Despite the disagreement over the day care, the board seems to agree that the UDO may be impractical for certain pieces of property.
At the same April 4 meeting where the Klassy Kids permit was approved, the board approved amendments to the UDO enabling the planning director to ease landscaping requirements in certain cases.
If the access easement to Timber Crossing is granted, Powell said she hopes to open Klassy Kids by Christmas.
Staff writer David Bracken can be reached at 829-4548 or email@example.com.