Marin Horizon School hopes to move its toddler program at Homestead Valley into a historic office building on 247 Miller Ave. to better accommodate its youngest students.
“Toddlers are the only ones that nap,” Ted Bayer, a Marin Horizon School trustee and parent, told the Planning Commission during it’s Sept. 24 meeting. “ And in order to provide space all in one place, we’re taking them for the first time from the rest of the campus. It’s not something we’re doing lightly.”
The day care center would include 18 students and three teachers Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., then drop down to 12 students and two teachers from 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. Kids would be on the first floor, and staff would use the second floor as office space. An outdoor play area would also be built in the back.
Planning Commission members were receptive, but had concerns about the visibility of the on-site public notice, along with the parking strategy and intent to remove nine large trees because they’re interfering with power lines. The board agreed to discuss the proposal as a study session, and place it on the Oct. 22 consent agenda, meaning the conditional use permit will be approved then as long as there are no objections from the public that warrant further discussion.
Keeping the Charm
The Victorian-era building is on a private lot set back from the street, with a canopy of trees that creates a peaceful, charming setting as you enter.
“It does have that feel of a green mass,” said Planning Commission Member Heidi Richardson. “You drive through something green and there’s a school house in the back. I want to make sure this site isn’t being stripped of that feel.”
Marin Horizon School's arborist said the trees there now are too tall, and are the tops are routinely chopped back by PG&E. They would be replaced by smaller trees and shrubs.
The Commission encouraged Marin Horizon to choose trees that will quickly grow to recreate the current canopy, and suggested the public notice, which is to be made more visible, also include the design plans so people aren’t surprised when the trees get chopped down.
Toddlers and Traffic
Chairman David Rand was also skeptical of how the school’s regimented parking plan would work without much room for cars to maneuver. The one-lane driveway would allow five cars at a time to circle through during drop-off and pick-up times, with each parent assigned to a specific wave spaced 20 minutes apart.
“What happens to traffic when the ... minutes are up and the first and fourth car are still in the driveway, and the fifth car can’t get out?” Rand asked.
But, the school has dealt with difficult parking situations at much larger schools, and has it down to a science, Bayer said.
“We’ve been doing it for six years,” he said. “We sensitized. We understand about traffic, we understand about flow, we understand about parents.”
The school would have one trained traffic monitor outside directing cars, and making sure parents and kids steadily come and go to keep the flow moving. If a parent is early, they’re asked to come back, which is a policy that’s enforced at the Homestead Valley campus.
Richardson agreed Marin Horizon has been successful in other situations, and supported giving it a try. The conditional use permit for traffic would come back to the commission in a year for a review, so if it’s unsuccessful they can then make changes to the policy.
“I’ve been one of those parents who has been regulated,” Richardson said. “It becomes part of the school culture, and people obey the rules. I’m not worried this won’t work. If a parent is concerned, or there’s a crying child, there is that pull-off where they can pull in and deal with the issue.”
But Rand wasn’t convinced.
“There’s no way in the world that’s not going to create a traffic issue in my mind,” he said. But, with the commission agreeing that schools for kids in Mill Valley are a top priority, none of the concerns were enough to halt the plans.
Vice Chairwoman Barbara Chambers said despite the traffic issues, it’s “a lovely location.”
“It’s just perfect,” she said. “It’s very difficult to find a building that will accommodate your use, so congratulations.”
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