Roofs are not somewhere children should play, said two Saanich councillors last week during discussions about a rezoning request that would allow a daycare with a rooftop play area.
“I don’t think that is an appropriate place for kids to play,” said Coun. Wayne Hunter, who spoke against the proposal along with Coun. Vic Derman. “This is Saanich, not New York or Toronto or L.A – one of those downtown core areas. This is Saanich.”
However, all seven other members on council decided the daycare – along with restrictive covenants – would serve a great need in the Gordon Head community.
“I believe (the roof) is being put to a higher and better use,” said Coun. Susan Brice, referring to the applicant’s original plan to have a green roof at the soon-to-be-built 3959 Shelbourne St.
Derman, who acknowledged that daycare in the area is desirable, said his safety concerns outweighed that need.
“I’m concerned about the lack of attention to what kind of environment will be created on the roof,” he said. “We’ve basically said we’ll make it safe so they aren’t falling off the roof or if they fall on the roof, they’ll just scrape their knee. That’s it.”
Michael Levin with Praxis Architects told council that there will be resilient rubber surface on the roof to act as a better ground for the children to play on. As well, a six-foot-tall concrete parapet will be built around the perimeter to prevent the children from climbing over the ledge of the four-storey building.
Kids and Company, a Canada-wide chain of daycares, will operate the facility. Vancouver Island Health Authority will inspect and license the daycare.
Brenda Gottfried has operated Freedom Childcare Centre on View Street for 16 years. And since Day 1, a 2,200-square-foot rooftop play area that sits atop Laser City Fun Centre has been where kids play during the day.
“It’s never been an issue with parents because all of the developmental things you want to do with kids, we’re able to do,” she said. “We have a garden, we have climbers, we have tricycles, we have sandboxes, we have water play. So what’s missing? Wet, dirty ground.”
The approved covenants restrict access to the roof at only certain times of the day, and will block access to the roof to any other business (without Saanich approval) if the daycare closes down.
Linda Starr, director of sales and marketing with Kids and Company, says they have existing rooftop play areas at locations in Toronto and Calgary – all without problem.
She cites the standard high parapet, which provides safety and acts as a sound barrier, as well as plastic chain link fencing that divides the play areas for children of different ages.
“To ensure the children are properly protected from the sun, we have a retractable awning over the rooftop play areas,” she added.
As Saanich is looking to make more livable “hubs” along Shelbourne Street, approval of daycare is a step in the right direction, Coun. Dean Murdock said.
“This is something that’s badly needed, especially as we plan out our concept to work, live and play in the same place. These complete kinds of communities are what we’re looking for to encourage folks to settle in,” he said.
Brice suggested that both child and adult daycares become de facto permitted uses in these mixed-use centres that include housing and workplaces. “These are what families need.”