Danville Express

Newsfront - May 11, 2007

Council OKs preschool at Gatetree Baptist, with conditions

Town of Danville will revisit use permit in three years

by Geoff Gillette

The ongoing battle between residents on Gatetree drive and the Gatetree Baptist Church settled into an uneasy truce after members of the Danville Town Council gave their approval May 1 to the church's request to open a preschool facility.

"Our congregation is very excited to move forward with this," said the Rev. Tom Holland, pastor of Gatetree Baptist Church.

He explained the plan had been in the works for three years and he is looking forward to seeing it come to fruition.

"I regret that our application has been appealed, but I can tell you we are excited to get started," he added.

At their May 1 meeting, council members were asked to consider a land use permit request from the church that would allow them to convert part of their building into a faith-based preschool. The Planning Commission had approved the request but residents appealed that decision to the Town Council.

The school is expected to have two sessions of 60 children each. With staff members, that would mean traffic would be arriving and leaving at intervals between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.

At the heart of the matter is the amount of traffic the facility is expected to generate in the quiet neighborhood just off busy Camino Tassajara. Residents claimed that the influx of staff members and parents would create a hazardous situation on the street, as well as increasing the noise levels of the neighborhood and devaluing nearby properties.

Residents attended Planning Commission meetings in 2006 and early 2007, calling for additional traffic studies and further stipulations, but the land use permit was approved and sent on to the council. An appeal was filed and a public hearing was held at the May 1 meeting.

Associate Planner Catarina Kidd summarized the situation for the council, stating that the traffic study done for the project was valid. She said that although data taken for the study was from 2005, traffic numbers for nearby intersections had not changed significantly enough to warrant an entirely new study.

Councilman Newell Arnerich asked Holland why the two sides in the dispute hadn't met to try to work out their differences.

"We were frankly taken aback by the tone of the opposition," Holland said. "We didn't think they'd ever go along with it, so there was no viable reason to meet with them."

Chief among the opponents is Jerry Glenn who, with his wife Barbara, has been attending meetings since the project was first announced. They were the ones to file the appeal after the Planning Commission gave its approval.

Glenn said having the school come into their neighborhood would affect their quality of life, and take away the "small town atmosphere" the residents currently enjoy.

Glenn stated that he was disappointed with the Planning Commission's handling of the situation.

"I felt pleased that the Planning Commission found the flaws and asked for three items to be taken care of before it could be approved," he said. "Seven months later, only one had been addressed. It was a great disappointment to us when six members of the Planning Commission rewarded this disregard for the tasks they were given by approving it."

Glenn again called for a separate traffic study, one that took current counts plus took the counts while school was in session. He also asked that the council delay giving its approval until such time as it had additional data.

He then asked that if the council should approve the plan that it include certain stipulations including:

* Reduce the program hours to 8:45 a.m. dropoff and 4 p.m. pickup;

* Install a Right Turn Only sign at the exit of the parking lot;

* A three-year term of approval to allow the town to revisit the land use permit; and

* Consider an indentation to allow parents to pull off the road to drop off their kids.

Chuck Krauss, who lives directly across from the church, said he feels the situation will provide some serious concerns for his family.

"Even if its only 50 cars, it is going to be a safety issue for me to back out of my driveway," he said.

Other concerns from residents included an increase in the noise level, which could cause problems for one family that has a parent who works a night shift. Also, there were concerns voiced that the increased traffic and noise would devalue residential properties while enhancing the value of the church property.

Council members discussed the traffic issues at great length and determined that the use would not create an undue hazard in the area. This did not preclude them from taking into account the stipulations suggested by Glenn.

"As much as I would like to say no, this is an allowable use. I think the obligation here is to be a better neighbor. Let's see how many of these we can incorporate," said Councilman Arnerich.

All of the council members bemoaned the lack of communication between the church and the neighborhood.

"I'm really disappointed," Arnerich told Pastor Holland. "It's surprising with your background and congregation that you wouldn't sit down and discuss that."

The land use was unanimously approved with several of the changes suggested by Glenn. The program hours were reduced, the right turn sign was approved, a sign will be posted in the neighborhood declaring "No Through Traffic" and the permit will be up for review in three years.

After the meeting, Glenn and the other residents in attendance said that while it was not an unqualified success they were pleased with the council's actions.

"We were impressed with how they listened," said Glenn. "They were more empathetic to our concerns."

He added that having the three-year window to revisit the situation gives them something to fall back on.

"We'll be watching. We'll be monitoring their compliance," he said.


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