A daycare center proposed on the site of the planned Wellington Charter School got a nod of approval Wednesday from members of Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board.
Despite concerns about traffic along State Road 7 near the intersection of Stribling Way, board members unanimously recommended approval of the ordinance after the site’s owners agreed to pay for a traffic light at Palomino Drive.
If approved by the Wellington Village Council, the daycare center will house up to 228 children in a maximum 15,000 square feet, Wellington Planner Damian Newell said.
It will be part of the Wellington Charter School, which received approval last year for up to 1,200 students on a site just north of Palomino Drive on the east side of SR 7.
Jon Schmidt, agent for the applicant, said that the daycare facility would be operated by Bright Horizons and would function independently of the school.
“There is certainly a synergy between the two,” he said. “But they are independent operators.”
Site owners initially proposed the school with daycare last year, but Wellington made the daycare center a conditional use while approving the charter school.
“They felt we needed to work on traffic circulation to make sure we got all of the stacking on site,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want cars backed up onto [SR 7] or Palomino Drive.”
Schmidt said that there would be two entrances to the school — one from SR 7 and another with access to Palomino Drive along the canal. Traffic could make a right or left turn into a driveway off SR 7, or turn in at Palomino.
From there, cars would separate depending on if they were school or daycare traffic, and flow through the site and back out.
“The daycare has traffic between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.,” Schmidt said. “There’s not a big rush like at schools. We wanted separate, designated drive lanes.”
Additionally, staff would be outside to direct traffic during the school rush.
“There are ways of disciplining so that this is done in an orderly fashion,” he said. “It’s not like public schools; kids get three strikes and they are out. The parents can’t be there for a half an hour chatting.”
Central to the daycare’s approval is a traffic light at Palomino Drive, which Wellington officials have pressed for heavily.
“When we went before the council, we agreed to pay our fair share of approximately $140,000 to move the project forward and fund the light,” Schmidt said.
But because it requires payment from several other property owners before it can be moved through the system, Schmidt said that the applicant was concerned about having the traffic signal operating in time for school.
“We don’t know when other contributors will come online,” he said. “It could be held up for five years until Wellington accumulates the money. So we said, ‘What if we go ahead and pay the full amount?’”
Schmidt said that the applicant would pay the more than $312,000 to finance the traffic signal. “We want to move forward,” he said.
Until the traffic signal is in place, Schmidt said that the number of students allowed on site would be limited. “We’re working on the numbers and what the limitations might be,” he said.
PZA Board Member Carol Coleman asked for clarification. “Would the school be active before the light is in place?” she asked.
Schmidt said that though the school would prefer to see the signal operating, the applicant hoped to be able to open with a lesser number of students.
“There’s a number of students we’d like to see allowed if the signal is not done,” Schmidt said. “We’re trying to open in August 2014. If the signal is not done by then, we’d look to see if we could open with maybe 400 or 600 students in the first year. We wouldn’t start with 1,200 right away.”
Board members asked why he believed the signal would not be complete, and Schmidt noted that there were three agencies that needed to approve it before it could be constructed.
“Wellington has to get the money and go to the county,” he said. “Then the county has to go out for bid and get permits through [the Florida Department of Transportation]. Then the county has to build it. There’s a lot of lag time.”
But Schmidt agreed that having the signal in place was preferred. “I think everyone is on the same page,” he said. “The light needs to be done.”
PZA Board Member Mike Drahos asked whether vehicles would be crossing SR 7 without a signal.
Wellington Traffic Consultant Andrea Troutman said that they would.
“They could make a left turn at the driveway,” she said. “Or they can go down to Palomino [Drive] and make a U-turn.”
Troutman noted that the signal is important to allow vehicles time to make those left turns.
“The signal will provide gaps for the driveway that they would not have had,” she said. “When northbound traffic is stopped at the signal, there will be gaps for people turning left into the site.”
There will also be access from Palomino Drive north to the property, Troutman added.
“They are required to provide access down to Palomino,” she said. “So vehicles could make a U-turn at the light, or turn left onto Palomino and then use that access.”
Coleman noted that there are several properties surrounding the area that will be developed.
“I think there will be much more traffic on SR 7 than what exists now,” she said. “I don’t care what delay you will have from the signal, I still think there’s going to be too much traffic.”
Troutman said that the traffic study done by the applicant took into account developments approved through 2016.
“They looked at all the approved projects in the area and added the proposed traffic into their analysis,” Troutman said. “There are things that have not been approved yet. There was nothing specifically included for K-Park.”
But Coleman said she still thought it would be a dangerous situation.
PZA Board Chair Craig Bachove asked what would happen if the signal was delayed and traffic backed up.
Troutman said drivers should go to the next available turn lane and make a U-turn.
Schmidt noted that the applicant considered putting an interim signal right at the school site, but found it would be more beneficial to have the signal at Palomino Drive.
“We decided we would contribute those dollars to do that,” he said. “We felt it was a much better solution.”
PZA Board Member Paul Adams made a motion to approve the resolution, which passed unanimously. It is tentatively set to go before the council in June.