Where Will The Children Breathe?

Christopher Peak PhotoA developer got the OK to build a child daycare center on Legion Avenue, but not without dissent from a neighbor who sits on the City Plan Commission.

Developer Centerplan has been gradually building an office and retail complex called “Route 34 West” on a megablock that had been razed during urban renewal’s heyday for a highway. The developers couldn’t attract a planned restaurant to the site, so instead they have lined up The Learning Experience, a daycare chain with over 200 locations nationwide, to fill the half-built vacancy.

The switch will require almost doubling the size of an existing 5,000 square-foot building, ripping down a drive-thru, reformatting the parking layout and landscaping a fenced, outdoor play area.

At the City Plan Commission’s regular monthly meeting held at City Hall Thursday night, where the site plan was up for review, Commissioner Leslie Radcliffe of the Hill expressed worry that rumbling engines and noxious exhaust from cars driving down the busy Frontage Road corridor pose a threat to the 160 young tots who’d be dropped off at the center.

So she cast a sole dissenting vote against approval for the site plan, but it passed 3-1. Chairman Edward Mattison, Commissioner Jonathan Wharton and Elias Estabrook, an alternate, all voted in favor.

When the center’s kids use the outdoor playground, “they are literally going to be playing in the middle of traffic, with the fumes and the emissions and the noise,” Radcliffe said. “Just 30 seconds, waiting for the light to change when you’re sitting behind a diesel truck is enough for [an adult in] one day. And we’re talking about children.”

To some extent, pollution is inescapable in an urban area, said Karyn Gilvarg, the City Plan Department’s executive director. She pointed to Gateway Community College’s Early Learning Center on George Street and the Montessori School on Edgewood Avenue as examples of other childcare centers near well-trafficked thoroughfares.

“You can’t say to people who live and work in New Haven, which is a great city, that you can’t have a place for your kids to go to daycare,” agreed the developer’s attorney, Steven Studer. “It’s part of the choices you make when you live in a city, as opposed to out on a farm someplace. There are pluses and minuses to both lifestyles, and you have to make that decision for yourself.”

Regardless, that issue wasn’t before the commission, Studer added, because a daycare center is a permitted use by right.

“Just because it’s a permitted use,” Radcliffe said, before voting against the proposal, “doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best use and that it’s a good use.”

Already home to a Rite-Aid pharmacy and Continuum of Care’s headquarters, the development is slated to include an office building and a hotel in future plans. A restaurant hasn’t been ruled out, but there’s also no guarantee one could move in, said Jason Rudnick, Centerplan’s president.

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