Possible childcare centers in Central Business District

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Mara Thompson
Staff Writer

Changing the zoning ordinances in Grand Ledge to allow childcare centers downtown was unopposed at the Downtown Development Authority meeting Wednesday.

Grand Ledge resident Chuck Pantera mentioned the idea at the Planning Commission meeting on Jan 5. He asked if changing the zoning ordinance to allow childcare centers in the Central Business District would be possible.

“Times are changing and it may be time to look at our ordinance that prohibits day cares in the downtown area,” Pantera said.

The original ordinance was written in 1997 and the Planning Commission is currently in the process of updating the ordinance section by section.

Susan Stachowiak, Grand Ledge zoning administrator, said before planning commissioners changed the zoning ordinances, they wanted to refer the matter to the Downtown Development Authority to obtain their opinion on the matter.

Economic development coordinator, Mark Sullivan brought up the idea to the Downtown Development Authority during their meeting on March 14 and said you’ve got to be careful when it comes to zoning.

“They can make exceptions at times, but these are old, established rules,” Sullivan said. “You can change these, but normally when you set up a zoning district the standard ordinances everybody else uses, you use as well. But you can make changes as you need to, to your specific community.”

Board member Rachel Paxton Schroeder asked why it isn’t allowed, or has never been allowed, to have childcare centers downtown.

“Because it’s the Central Business District, and it’s for shoe stores,” said board member Keith Mulder.

Sullivan said when it comes to zoning; they have to think about the most devastating planning that could happen under new ordinances.

“That’s the only problem with zoning because once you say yes, the next person that says ‘I am going to go down here and do it the way I want’, we can’t say ‘we don’t want you there, that is not a good spot for you’, it doesn’t work that way,” Sullivan said. “That is why zoning is the way it is.”

Paxton Schroeder said as a business owner she wants a day care downtown to bring in more people and that having it could bring more variety to the businesses. But as a mother she might feel differently, and recommended a requirement in how many feet the outside play area must be from the day care facility.

Yet, board member Terrance Augustine thinks there are too many restrictions across the board in their ordinances.

“Let’s not stop businesses that want to locate in Grand Ledge, people that bring their kids to the day care would come downtown everyday,” Augustine said. “That’s what we want to do – that’s our mission – to attract people to businesses downtown, so to me it’s a no-brainer.”

Although Mayor Kalmin Smith, said he was nervous about children being downtown and potentially crossing main streets, but he supported the ordinance change. he settled on being unopposed to the idea.

“I guess my response to the planning commission is that is it okay as long as it fits the guidelines,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t just be forbidden.”

The board unanimously agreed about having no objection to the idea. The planning commission will discuss the review by the Downtown Development Authority at their April 12 meeting.

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