Who knew people could get so angry about children?
That was one question raised by last Wednesday’s heated zoning board meeting over plans for a new daycare in the Rittenhouse Square area.
Neighborhood residents sparred with the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the project developer over the proposed conversion of a 12,800-square-foot building on 22nd and South Streets into a Goddard School franchise.
“One person complained and said, are we going to have to listen to the sounds of kids laughing and yelling?” developer Jason Nusbaum told Billy Penn. “We could have worse problems.”
While zoning board members ultimately voted to welcome the childcare facility into the tony neighborhood, their unanimous decision did not come without a massive argument about noise, traffic and, of course, parking.
‘A complete fiasco’
Nusbaum pitched the daycare conversion of his corner property — currently the site of a vacant parking garage — as a community benefit. All it required was a zoning variance.
“I thought this would be a really good complementary use,” he said. “The utility and value of it is a positive for the neighborhood.”
But in a neighborhood where residents spent three years debating the design of a highrise, nothing is that simple.
Pleading to ZBA Chairman Frank DiCicco, Rittenhouse area residents insisted that a daycare center would only aggravate the neighborhood’s existing problems: traffic and noise.
“There is total gridlock in the neighborhood,” said Kristin Hayes, who said she’s raised two daughters from her home at 22nd and Pine. “Traffic is backed up through Graduate Hospital. It’s going to be a complete fiasco.”
“You’re basically parachuting this into the neighborhood,” said Scott Diamond, another resident at 22nd and Pine. “No one anticipated this.”
Adam Laver, a real estate attorney for Nusbaum, assured residents that the school would do all it could not to exacerbate these problems. The developer plans to install residential-grade air conditioning units atop the building, which are quieter than the alternative industrial-grade units, Laver said. He also proposed to reserve about six parking spots from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for parent drop-off — which residents could use at night.
Still, residents’ complaints about the influx of parents and children seemed inexhaustible. Car traffic at drop-off times, people with strollers crossing Pine Street, and “the noise of those children” — all this would disrupt the neighborhood’s desired rhythm, residents argued.
Another resident, Frederick Masters, pursued recourse options for the daycare’s worst offenders. Could the ZBA, he asked, force the developer to expel students if their parents park illegally while dropping them off for daycare?
“I agree we need more daycare, but the question is, does it belong in this neighborhood?” Hayes asked the ZBA. “This will decrease our quality of life. Why do we have to suffer the consequences?”
“The longterm neighbors really know best,” she added.
DiCicco’s advice? Just deal with it
The residents might have a point: the blocks around 22nd and Pine offer either two-hour parking or no parking at all. Even where parking is available, vacant spots are a rare sight.
But complaints be damned, the zoning board approved the variance.
DiCicco did offer residents a single concession. The developer wanted to put up a huge illuminated sign displaying the name of The Goddard School, which would’ve been lit from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night. DiCicco agreed that was an unnecessary disturbance to the neighborhood, and he vetoed the sign.
The former councilman-turned-zoning official also did his best to assuage the neighbors’ concerns. He said he anticipates most parents will walk their children to daycare, rather than drive. Plus, a daycare will probably be less terrible for neighborhood parking than, say, the development of an apartment complex, he said.
Ultimately, DiCicco’s advice to residents was simple: Just deal with it.
“I’m not suggesting traffic won’t increase at all at dropoff times,” DiCicco said. “But those are the kinds of things we live with in a city.”