After more than an hour of discussion, presentation, and public comment on Nov. 20, the San Benito County Planning Commission unanimously denied approval for a new child day care center in a residential area off Sunset Drive in Hollister. Nine neighbors spoke against the project, citing increased traffic and noise concerns.
According to assistant planner Richard Felsing, applicants Li Xluya and Chen Yi planned to serve 14 children between two and six years old using the Montessori curriculum. The applicants operate a similar day care center in San Jose called the Lighthouse Montessori School.
The day care center would have been the second Montessori school in town with Hollister Montessori operating on Southside Drive. There are 14 child care facilities categorized as preschool in Hollister, according to the California Department of Social Services.
Felsing said the project qualified as a preschool. According to the meeting’s agenda packet, the day care center could serve a maximum of 30 children.
Staff recommended that commissioners not approve the project, and neighbors pointed out that the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R) signed by property owners at purchase time prohibits commercial use in the area.
“No lot shall be used or caused to be used or allowed or authorized in any way directly or indirectly for any business, commercial, manufacturing, mercantile, storing, vending or any such non-residual purposes,” resident Rob Thompson read from a section of the CC&R.
Getting in and out of the neighborhood requires turning off Sunnyslope Road, and residents said traffic has increased with the new Santana Ranch development nearby. They expect the volume of cars to increase even more after the new Rancho Santana School opens.
“If you go down into our neighborhood and try to make a left turn from Holliday onto Sunnyslope at about a quarter to eight in the morning, you will sit there because you cannot make that turn,” neighbor Ed Murrow said. “People even try to stop to let you out, but remember it’s feeding through from Fairview to all the way down.”
Murrow, who said he has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years, told commissioners that the applicants claimed only one neighbor opposed the project. He pointed to the audience and said there were 20 neighbors who were against it. Over a dozen people raised their hands when Murrow pointed.
Barbara Lewis, director of the proposed day care center, said that in speaking with neighbors about the project there was only one neighbor that opposed the project. Lewis also said they reduced the number of children they would serve from 30 to 14, in response to neighbors’ concerns about noise. Later in the meeting, several neighbors said they did not speak to or were informed about the project by the applicants or Lewis.
While the day care was technically considered a commercial business, Lewis said that it was the same as a family child care center because the children would be inside the house most of the time. Outside activities would include gardening, nature lessons and playtime.
“There is no evidence that we will cause damage, hazard or nuisance to persons or property,” she said, adding that there will always be one or two people who would be “annoyed” about the idea of a child care center in their neighborhood.
Principal planner Taven Brown said the applicants had 10 calendar days to appeal the decision to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. Lewis told BenitoLink they do not intend to appeal the decision.
According to the definitions provided by county staff, a family day care home is defined as “a home that provides care, protection, and supervision for 14 or fewer children, in a provider’s own home.” A child care center is defined as “a child day care facility other than a family day care home, and includes infant centers, preschools, extended day care facilities, and school-age child care centers.”
Several neighbors clarified that they opposed the location of the day care center and not the services, as they already have one center operating in the neighborhood.
Before voting to oppose the day care center, Commissioner Robert Eggers said that with or without the Montessori school in the neighborhood, the county needed to address the traffic issue.
“We don’t really have solutions for that, but I’m interested to know what thoughts the community has, the neighborhood has in terms of what would be best for the traffic issues that do exist,” he said.