A single mother said she knows what other moms need from a childcare center; her neighbors said she doesn’t know what belongs on their residential street.
The single mom, Tamara Miller, runs a six-child daycare out of the first floor of a two-family home at 27 Tilton St., on a residential block between Winchester Avenue and Yale-oriented Mansfield Street from Science Park. She appeared at a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing at 200 Orange St. on Tuesday evening seeking a special exception to double the size of her operation and to stay open all night — a service to mothers who work the late shift.
Miller’s neighbors also showed up in full force to protest the expansion. They argued that more traffic would choke the narrow, one-way, one-block street and that midnight pickups would keep them awake with honking horns and bright headlights.
After hearing arguments, the zoning board voted to approve the application.
City planning staff came out in favor of Miller’s application, citing the importance of daycare facilities in a working city.
“This proposal involves the type of neighborhood human service that is essential in any truly livable neighborhood,” Thomas Talbot, the deputy director for zoning, wrote in his staff assessment. “Families that come to know each other through association with the daycare, as well as children who … will grow up together in the daycare will form the type of personal connections that are the basis for … any neighborhood to remain sustainable.”
Referencing the updated city comprehensive plan’s goals of “social integration” and “community cohesion,” Talbot added, “It is the opinion of the staff that neighborhood day care facilities are [a] no less important feature in achieving either [goal] in a neighborhood than schools, recreation centers or any other privately or publicly provided human service.”
Several neighbors sharply disagreed, arguing that the traffic on the street was disrupting the residential vibe. By the time Miller showed up 11 minutes late to the meeting, the neighbors were already grumbling and throwing up their hands.
Miller, a single mom, said she needs to expand her operation to pull in some additional revenue, as her daughter gets older and wants to play sports. Rather than doubling the tuition for working families, Miller chose to add more kids.
At her center, kids play, paint and learn. Using curriculum from the not-for-profit group All Our Kin, Miller teaches food groups, colors and other basics. “When they leave me, they’re going to pre-K, but really, they’re ready for first grade,” she said. Two full-time staff are on duty. She also brings in several consultants, including a head nurse who visits weekly, a social worker and head teacher who visit monthly and a dentist that’s on call by phone.
Miller stressed that her childcare is an important service for other single parents. Overnight babysitting in particular is a rarity among daycare centers (as the name implies); Miller said she knows moms need the service. “At one point in my life, I worked overnight,” she said. “When I put in an application here, I’m doing it to provide for those in that situation.” About half the mothers have requested this late-night care, but Miller promised she’ll only allow four kids to minimize disturbances on the Tilton Street.
In a final plea to the board, Miller said, “I just want you to keep in mind that I love taking care of kids. I do have a child of my own, and it’s given me the time to spend with my daughter: a great opportunity to go to her school and provide for her as a single mother as well.” She continued, “This is my job. I take it very seriously. I love what I do, and my daughter inspired me to do it. I’m doing this daycare for other single mothers.”
Those good intentions weren’t good enough for neighbors, who asked how parents would drop off and pick up their children.
When Miller said she’d be using her driveway, audience member Earnestine Russell burst out, “You kidding me?” The driveway, leading to a backyard playground, couldn’t accommodate cars for pick-up and drop-off, several present argued, meaning that congestion instead would pile up on the one-way street.
“With increased traffic, there will be delays. Will there be blockages? Will there be noise? Will there be light intrusion when neighbors are falling asleep? When their own children are falling asleep? What effect will this have on emergency access?” asked Daniel Burns, a lawyer representing a rental property owner on the block. “Those should be looked at by the board as you consider the application.”
Another landlord, Peter Shiue, said he felt the project was changing the residential feel of the neighborhood. “I’m concerned that increasing capacity for this type of operation is going to tip the street in the direction of a more commercial feel.”
Others also criticized the noise from buses, who honk when they drop off children. Rosalee Miller, the property owner, said there shouldn’t be “any noise,” because the overnighters are just coming to sleep. “They’re being dropped off to go to bed,” she said.
City planners disputed that traffic would see a noticeable spike. “Given the dozen or so additional daily vehicle trips (spread over a 24 hour period) that this use will generate, it is unlikely to have any appreciable impact on the street,” Talbot wrote.
A memo from Michael J. Pinto, deputy director at the city Department of Transportation, Traffic & Parking, confirmed his assessment. Pinto acknowledged the designated driveway has “limited” parking, the “moderate demand” for spaces on the street and the problems with the daycare staff using permit parking on the street. However, Pinto concluded, “On street parking for drop off and pick up should not be a significant concern.”
Both of those expert opinions were enough to sway the board. Before the vote, Benjamin Trachten, the chair, said it didn’t sound like an “unreasonable use,” and member Charles Decker argued that traffic increases would be minimal. The four members present approved the application unanimously.
Neighbors said they didn’t hear a concrete solution from the zoning board about traffic and noise. Shiue said he can only hope that Miller “runs a tight ship,” especially now that she knows so many on the block are ready to march downtown and complain if she doesn’t.