By Kevin Kelley
If anyone saw Ward 5 Councilman Mark Getsay driving behind Westlake strip shopping centers in recent weeks, he wasn’t lost, making deliveries or up to anything nefarious.
He said he was checking for any dangers to potential enclosed child care playgrounds that may be built in the future should the city allow child care centers to locate in the city’s retail districts.
Getsay noted his investigatory mission during the March 6 meeting of the city’s Planning Commission, on which he sits as City Council representative.
In recent months, the Planning Commission has been carefully considering whether to allow child care centers to operate in the suburb’s retail and general business district.
Currently, child care centers and preschools located in the city’s retail and general business districts are required to be the sole tenants of their buildings.
But the Planning Commission and City Council are considering a request to amend that code. The owners of Sweet Kiddles Flexible Childcare Center, which currently has locations in Medina and Strongsville, wants to open a new location in Stein Mart Plaza.
Getsay said he saw trash compactors, compressors and other miscellaneous equipment behind some shopping plazas. He said such equipment should be at least 50 feet away from enclosed playgrounds or screened if playgrounds are in the same plaza. Getsay also said delivery areas should be a safe distance away from such playgrounds.
Westlake Planning Director Jim Bedell had already written a draft of the code that would keep trash dumpsters away from the play areas.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re all concerned about the safety of the children, that they’re in an appropriate area,” Getsay said. “I don’t think they’re any questions about that.”
In addition, some retail centers “need a lot of cleanup in the back,” Getsay said. He asked that wording be added to the proposed code draft to address his concerns to create “a safe and appropriate environment” for the outdoor play areas.
Bedell said at least some of Getsay’s concerns fell under the category of property maintenance, which is separate from zoning.
When Getsay asked Bedell to determine which plazas have such equipment that would prohibit a child care playground area, Bedell said the question was hypothetical, as a plaza with exposed equipment might take corrective action once a child care center rents space. Future actions of a plaza owner are indeterminable, Bedell explained.
Law Director John Wheeler suggested the Planning Commission address such concerns when issuing conditional use permits for child care centers.
Getsay said it was Planning Commission’s duty to give the best recommendation to Westlake City Council. He said he would feel more comfortable addressing the issue of equipment behind plazas.
“If we don’t address it, we could end up with a playground where we don’t necessarily want it,” Getsay said. Bedell said those concerns could be addressed in the conditional use permit, which Getsay agreed with.
Ultimately, Getsay’s concerns about dangers behind shopping plazas led to the proposed zoning amendment to be officially tabled for a fourth time. Bedell and Getsay said addressing the concerns was simply a matter of “wordsmithing” the draft to the councilman’s satisfaction.
But Robert and Andrea Kimmel, the owners of Sweet Kiddles, are looking at another site, at Westlake Corporate Park on Crocker Road. Because the site is zoned under the suburb’s executive office park category, Sweet Kiddles will not need to obtain a conditional use permit for a child care center as it would have had to for the Stein Mart Plaza.
The Kimmels have submitted a site improvement plan to the city to build an outdoor playground at the Crocker Road site. Bedell, the city’s planning director, said a portion of the playground would extend onto another parcel owned by the same landlord. He said it would be allowable under a modification from the Planning Commission.
Andrea Kimmel said she intends to drop her plans to open a Sweet Kiddles location at the Stein Mart Plaza if the Planning Commission approves her site improvement plan for the Westlake Corporate Park site.