Following a divided public hearing, District council has given its blessing to a proposed rezoning that would increase the capacity of an existing childcare facility in Ravenswood.
On Sept. 15, council voted 6-1 to grant third reading to the proposal. Coun. Doug Race was the sole dissenting vote. The bylaw still needs to pass adoption, but this is a near certainty once third reading is given.
Council debated the issue, which pitted the town's desperate need for more childcare spaces against some neighbours who believed the rezoning would pose increased traffic safety problems and even devalue their property.
This application, which is for the Project Play daycare at 39319 Falcon Crescent, seeks to increase the allowed number of childcare spaces at that location to 24, up from eight.
Municipal staff reports say this childcare centre has, on average, about 50 names on its waitlist.
Mayor Karen Elliott said that childcare is a pressing issue in Squamish, as at least 72 new spaces need to be created per year to hit the District's 2029 goal of 720 new slots.
"I've had enough parents in my office at mayor's drop-in desperate for childcare — in tears because they can't find childcare," said Elliott. "I think in considering all the comments from the public hearing on this that these applicants have considered their neighbours to the best of their ability."
The new zoning would allow for Project Play to expand, but also gives flexibility for the house to be returned to residential use if the need for childcare dwindles, Elliott said.
Coun. Doug Race, however, was more hesitant on the matter. He did not dispute that childcare was a pressing issue in town, but said such a need did not justify "to do anything anywhere."
"The lot is about the same size as my lot, and I sit and think about the possibility of 24 children running around my lot," said Race.
"And no matter how much you like children, I think that would be a daunting prospect. It's actually similar to some of the concerns we hear with Airbnbs where people wake up one morning and find they've got a commercial activity next to them in a residential area."
He said he didn't support the project because of its location.
Coun. John French disagreed with people who were concerned that the expanded daycare would decrease their property values.
"I predict with confidence that any home near this centre that is put up for sale in the future will sell for well above the previous purchase price," said French. "Proximity to daycare is a selling feature for many people."
He said because Ravenwood has a lot of children, many of these people will attend the daycare. As a result, people shouldn't be worried about vehicle traffic, as most people will be walking and biking to the facility.
"I worked in an office next to a commercial daycare centre at one time, and that experience was actually uplifting," said French. "Every day when the kids came outside into the play area, we could hear the sound of pure joy next door."