Expanding a daycare in an east Abbotsford residential neighbourhood would put children in danger, two councillors declared last week.
Their council colleagues, though, disagreed, with Mayor Henry Braun declaring the Laburnum Avenue location comparatively safe and other councillors noting that Abbotsford is desperately in need of more childcare spaces.
The existing daycare, which sits at the corner of Laburnum and Immel Street, operates out of a home and already hosts eight children. The owners were seeking to build an expansion that would allow 28 kids under the age of six to attend the daycare.
In tandem with the application, the city developed new parking rules that would require one traffic space be made available for each 10 children. The expanded daycare would need to add three more parking spaces.
(Those spaces wouldn’t have to be reserved for parents. Provincial rules require one qualified adult to be present for every eight children on site.)
Council voted to approve the expansion, but Couns. Les Barkman and Bruce Banman opposed the larger facility, citing safety concerns.
A petition in support of the expansion was signed by many local residents and submitted to the city, although other residents expressed concern about noise and traffic at a public hearing.
Dr. Thomas A. Swift elementary is nearby, and the area has several other schools. That caused Banman and Barkman to voice concern that heavy traffic in the area and parents dropping children off for daycare could create safety problems.
“My grandson attended [Thomas A. Swift],” Banman said. “I was there both dropping him off and picking him up on a few occasions and the neighbourhood is correct. It’s an absolute gong show when it comes to traffic.”
Banman said that while the city’s bylaws would permit such a facility in most areas, the lot in question – which fronts Immel on both the east and the south – was problematic.
“I would love to support this, but I can’t. I can’t because it is an accident waiting to happen.”
Barkman said he was worried about parents stopping in no-parking areas to drop their kids off, and about the lack of sidewalks in those areas on Laburnum where parking is permitted. He too said he was generally in support of adding childcare facilities, but that safety concerns trumped that desire in the case of the Laburnum application.
But Mayor Henry Braun said the four-way stop at the corner of Immel and Laburnum actually makes the traffic situation safer than in some other areas.
“I do not think this is a gong show,” he said. Braun said he also travelled the area and spent time observing conditions at the intersection. “Yes, there is congestion at certain times of the city, but that happens all over the city.”
He added: “If we’re going to reject applications based on if there’s increased traffic or too much traffic or too much noise, then we better shut the city down.”
Staff had told council that the intersection had seen four minor crashes over the span of five years – a low total given heavy volumes.
The operators of the daycare said many current and prospective parents live nearby. A large proportion would walk their children to the site.
That declaration was cited by several councillors, who emphasized the city’s need for more childcare facilities.
Coun. Ross Siemens noted that Abbotsford currently has four times more children under the age of six than it does childcare spots, and Coun. Dave Loewen said putting daycares in residential neighbourhoods can reduce the financial strain on parents.
“It also seems to me that a neighbourhood with five schools is a perfect place to have a daycare,” Coun. Sandy Blue added.
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