As child care needs have played an increased role in the disruption of daily life caused by the pandemic, St. Louis Park to ease legal barriers preventing more opening. daycare centers in the city.
For several years, a number of commercial child care providers have struggled to find locations that comply with city rules, planning director Sean Walther told St. Louis Park City Council on Jan.3.
Mayor Jake Spano cited Kid Zone as an example. The supplier has leased space at Union Congregational Church in St. Louis Park, but will be relocated due to an affordable housing project. Kid Zone’s relocation committee worked with a commercial real estate broker from the spring of 2020 to find a new site, which ultimately led to the board signing a lease at Hopkins instead of St. Louis Park, according to the Kid Zone website, kidzoneslp.com. A move to 715 Second Ave. S. at Hopkins is expected later this year.
City staff have offered to do away with some of the rules Walther called unnecessary and adhere more closely to the looser state rules followed more often in surrounding towns.
A key restriction has banned child care centers within 200 feet of a major freeway, such as Hwy 100 and Hwy 7, Interstate 394, and US Route 169. Many large commercial properties in the city are located within proximity to roads, which limits the sites available for daycare centers. .
St. Louis Park’s restrictions on playgrounds have also created challenges for businesses looking for venues. City code based the size requirement on the total number of children served in the building while state law allows play areas which may be smaller but limit the number of children who can be. in the playground at the same time. The effect is that the city often needs larger playgrounds than state law requires, according to Walther.
Additionally, state law generally allows daycares to use city parks instead of hosting their own outdoor activity zones in certain situations. However, the city did not allow such considerations.
The municipal staff proposal called for daycares located near parks to continue to have outdoor play areas, but with size reductions allowed if a path or sidewalk connects the facility to a park with play equipment. age-appropriate. The on-site outdoor space could be cut in half if a city park with play equipment is nearby. Walther noted that the St. Louis Park Planning Commission wanted an on-site area available, and he said the proposal amounted to a compromise based on the commission’s discussion.
“Sounds like a good starting point for us,” said Walther. “It’s a consideration that will work in some places, but maybe not in all. “
He noted that municipal parks vary and indicated in response to questions from council that the city may consider making an exception to the specific rules for a property with unique circumstances.
Board member Margaret Rog asked if a business owner could look for play materials for young children in a park that is in short supply.
She added, “When I think about the types of equipment I see in daycares and the types of equipment I see in parks, they are different. “
Walther agreed that most of the city’s parks contain play equipment for older children. He said parks and recreation staff could review requests for additional toddler equipment, considering what would be doable and who would pay for the equipment.
Due to her work with a National Day Care Center as part of her day job, board member Lynette Dumalag said she knew the hardest part of finding a location involved the requirements for outdoor play areas which can represent one third of a site in some areas and displace parking.
“I am happy that we are attacking it at a state demand because we are not pitting cities against each other,” Dumalag said.
Council member Larry Kraft said he was pleased the city is getting ready to facilitate the opening of a daycare center in St. Louis Park.
“The past two years with the pandemic have made even more evident the importance of affordable, quality child care for families, for mental health, for economic well-being,” Kraft said.
He pointed to a story from PBS indicating that the lack of reliable and affordable child care services limits the jobs people can accept and ultimately limits the ability to grow the economy as a whole.
Councilor Nadia Mohamed added: “I would even go so far as to say that it is women who make the difficult decision and constantly put their careers on hiatus and change careers or might not accept certain job offers because of child care.
The city council voted unanimously in favor of the new rules that would remove the city’s requirement to ban child care centers near freeways, relax the rules on required outdoor activity zones, and create consistent rules for all zoning districts for day care centers. A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday, January 18.
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