Wellington Council OKs Home Away From Home Expansion

The Wellington Village Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a conditional use application for the Home Away From Home daycare center and preschool to increase its capacity from 171 to 299 children.

Home Away From Home is located at the southeast corner of Binks Forest Drive and Bent Creek Road.

Growth Management Director Robert Basehart said Home Away From Home, located in the Binks Commercial Center, is expanding its space by 5,643 square feet to a total of 14,686. The original approval was in December 2008.

“Currently, four lots are occupied,” Basehart said of the 15-lot commercial center. “Home Away From Home occupies lots one through three. This application will involve the addition of lot four.”

Several businesses occupy another lot, while the rest of the center is undeveloped, he said.

“We think that there are a number of advantages to this application and benefits to the community,” Basehart said. “These people have done a great job since the inception of the facility, and now they’re going to be able to accommodate more children.”

He added that the traffic patterns will be improved with a connection of the center’s internal road to Binks Forest Drive, which will enable two one-way traffic circulation patterns for the drop-off and pickup of children.

“The [new] connection was always contemplated,” Basehart said. “When the park originally went through, the applicants actually preferred to stub the street and allow it not to connect at that point because it would have taken a comprehensive plan amendment application for the council to approve, and they didn’t want to go through that process. However, it was always the intention that someday that connection would be desirable, and with the increased activity on this site… we think this connection is going to make a very positive difference.”

The number of employees will increase from 15 to 23, and parking spaces will be increased from 32 to 50, which is more than the code requires.

“We believe that this new plan will significantly improve the access and on-site circulation and traffic patterns in the area,” Basehart said.

The biggest advantage is that it eliminates the need for drivers to back up after picking up or dropping off their children, he said, adding that the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board recommended approval in a 7-0 vote. Staff recommended approval with 11 conditions, and there have been no concerns expressed by neighbors.

The center will also keep its existing access point on Bent Creek Way, and Councilman Matt Willhite asked whether the flashing “school zone” sign could be moved to a spot before that entrance for the benefit of elementary school parents and the daycare parents as well.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig asked whether there would be sufficient sight distance for drivers pulling out onto Binks Forest Drive, and Basehart said that the village’s engineer and traffic consultant had no concerns.

Councilman John McGovern asked about the coordination of anticipated drop-off and pickup periods from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. The applicant is offering to have a staff member in the parking lot to direct traffic from 7 to 8 a.m. and from 5 to 6 p.m.

“They talk about one hour,” McGovern said. “We’re requiring three hours?”

Vice Mayor John Greene asked about additional traffic on Binks Forest Drive, and traffic consultant Andrea Troutman responded that the traffic volume there is fairly low for a four-lane road. “There is a lot of capacity on that roadway,” she said.

Willhite said he thought that the resolution should be brought back before the council in two weeks for final approval, and that the pickup and drop-off hours should be reconsidered.

“I think the hours which we’re most concerned with are the hours that are consistent with Binks Forest Elementary School,” he said.

Home Away From Home agent Michelle Hoyland said the project had been approved by the county originally and the applicant had spent considerable time bringing standards up to Wellington requirements, explaining that the cost for the additional turn lane went from about $40,000 to over $60,000.

“That opening to Binks Forest Drive isn’t just an opening; it’s a little more involved,” Hoyland said, explaining that it includes installing a turn lane and moving a storm drain.

She said her client questioned Home Away From Home bearing all the cost, with the potential of future clients enjoying the improvements. Hoyland added that she hoped the changes discussed could be done administratively rather than having to come back before the council.

Regarding pickup and drop-off, Hoyland said village staff had agreed with them putting a staff member in the parking lot for an hour in the morning and afternoon, and that it would cost much more to have someone there three hours in the morning and afternoon.

“We are hopeful that you will consider the one hour,” she said, adding that if an issue should arise, they would add parking lot staff. “We’re not seeing any backup in our own parking lot. We are historically not seeing a backup, but we’re prepared to do whatever we can to be a good neighbor.”

Willhite made a motion to approve the application, but for it to be returned for council consideration on the consent agenda in two weeks, after the details under discussion had been worked out. The motion carried 5-0.