Zoo day care approved despite objection

By Corene Brisendine

Disagreements over the city’s role created some debate but did not stop approval of a proposed day care facility at Sunset Zoo during Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.

Commissioner Wynn Butler objected to a proposal to create a day care service at the zoo’s Nature Exploration Center, saying the concept did not fit in with the city government’s “core function.” While Butler agreed with commissioners and zoo staff that the center’s mission was to provide education on wildlife and conservation, he saw the inclusion of a nature-focused day care program as “mission creep.” But the other commissioners present at Tuesday’s meeting overrode his objections on a 3-1 vote, commissioner John Matta being absent.

Commissioner Jim Sherow asked whether the zoo would include scholarships to allow everyone in the community an opportunity to participate in the program. The cost per child is about $765 a month, a total city officials have conceded is above-average for day care programs in this area. Mayor Loren Pepperd said he also thinks the zoo should do something to allow lower-income families to participate.

But that may be a problem since zoo officials plan to fund the program out of their own revenues. Mark Ellner, president of Friends of Sunset Zoo, suggested that organization might be able to help raise money for a scholarship.

Commissioners also voiced concern about the day care being in direct competition with other Manhattan day cares. Cassie Anderson, assistant director of the Kansas University Child Development Center, said she didn’t see the zoo’s nature-led day care as competition because they have a wait list for all of their age groups, and the community needs more quality day cares.

In addition to allowing the zoo day care to move forward, commissioners also approved installing playground equipment at that site through a grant. While Butler opposed the day care itself, he supported installation of the playground equipment because “it was funded through a grant” and local tax payers would not be burdened with the cost.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the rest of the general agenda items and the consent agenda items with a 4-0 vote.

The general agenda items included the building of another Dollar General Store in Heritage Square, an amendment to zoning regulations to include “cultural facilities” to C-5, C-4 and C-3 zones, and the change of Lot 4 of the south end downtown redevelopment from a mixed use building to an apartment complex without commercial space on the first floor.

Eric Cattell, assistant director for planning, said the developer of the building had not been able to “successfully lease” the commercial space on the first floor and proposed to make the first floor space into additional apartments. Sherow said the city needs more housing in the downtown area, and was happy to see the developer choosing to provide it.

In discussion of the zoning amendment, Cattell said including “cultural facilities” in a C-5 zone was the easiest solution to allow the Wonder Workshop to open its new facility at 506 S. Fourth St.

Prior to the change, the only zone that allowed cultural facilities was C-1. Cattell said with the location of the workshop across the street from the downtown redevelopment district and the nearness to traditional downtown, it would be wise to include those types of facilities in downtown business (C-4) and Aggieville (C-3) districts as well as highway service commercial districts (C-5), which is where the workshop is located.

Pepperd said while the city works on the urban area comprehensive plan, it needs to “clean up” the “hodgepodge” of zones in the downtown area because it is making future growth and development problematic.

“For 20 years I’ve been saying that [the zoning department] needs to clean up the zoning, but I’ll be dead and gone before that gets done,” he said.

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