In the heart of Cabbagetown, just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the busy downtown core, stands a picture perfect 130-year-old heritage building. And it’s empty.
“One of the neighbours approached us and suggested the idea of a daycare and that’s when we thought, ‘oh, never thought of that but what an excellent idea,'” said Sherry D’Costa, who purchased the building at 461 Sackville Street with her husband in July 2016.
D’Costa recalls the struggle to find appropriate childcare when the couple’s two teenage daughters were young, especially while managing a full-time career.
“We know there’s a big shortage of daycares in Canada, there’s a dire need for this,” she noted. “Anything we can do to help promote and keep women in the workforce is not just good for the community, it’s good for Canada.”
D’Costa and her husband Robert Ulicki enlisted the help of an architect who has been involved with the design of six other daycares in the downtown area.
“It’s a great neighbourhood for the children, there’s so many children already in the neighbourhood, there’s parks and facilities they could use, daycares like to take kids out and be around the neighbourhood, so that’s all positive things,” Lea Wiljer said.
Wiljer had expected that the Cabbagetown community would embrace the prospect of a new daycare.
“There are plenty of parents who are really supportive of the daycare. Lots of support letters have come in from people who really love the idea,” she said.
“I think the daycare is already full if they take all the kids that want to come here.”
The process of getting approval to convert what has traditionally been used as a multi-dwelling unit into a childcare facility has been complex, time consuming and expensive.
“It was $2.15 million and that has to be carried, it’s not free money, and we have a mortgage to pay and without any tenants, whether it be a daycare or multi-level residential, there’s a cost associated with that,” Ulicki said.
Ulicki noted, if the proposed daycare goes ahead as planned, it will cost another $3.5 million when it is all said and done.
But there are no guarantees.
A meeting to review the zoning application is planned for mid-week at Toronto City Hall.
The application received many letters of support, but even more letters of objection, from people like Shauna MacDonald, who lives a few doors away from the building.
She has owned her home for the last 15 years and worries about the “interference” a daycare would cause in people’s lives.
“It has nothing to do with it being a daycare, it is only a business that is bringing in 82 people and changing the traffic, because then you’re on a high traffic street, and when you’re on a high traffic street your property value is less,” she said.
As she pointed out, the plan is for the daycare facility to provide spaces for 82 children with up to 18 staff members.
Mother of two Judy Lu sees the benefits, and added value to the community.
“Definitely something to be able to walk your child to, so you don’t have to rush to another neighbourhood, is something any parents dream of,” Lu said, holding her toddler in her arms.
Lu was unable to find daycare for her daughter and hopes to put her on a waiting list should the proposed daycare become a reality.
City Councillor Lucy Troisi acknowledged there is a need for childcare in downtown Toronto, but noted “it’s really about the scale and the location.”
Troisi pointed out “we just have to make sure the scale is appropriate and that the site itself is safe for children, especially 82 children that we’re talking about for this particular site.”
Besides traffic, a big concern for area residents is parking.
As noted in one letter of objection, “There is no space for stopping and parking for pick-up and drop-off. There is limited street parking in Cabbagetown, and the streets are so narrow there is no room to double park.”
And in another, “This parking is already limited. Many of these residents are seniors needing a spot close as possible to their home.”
Ulicki countered that argument with the fact that the property has a legal parking pad for three vehicles to facilitate drop offs and pick ups. The permit, however, would need to be reapplied for with the change of use. The hope is that the city will support the continued use.
“The parents would drive in, in theory the first car would move forward and there will be someone from the daycare who would be there and accept the child, go in through the side door there and then drives off,” Ulicki said.
The “kiss-n-ride” practice would be encouraged so parents maintain a quick drop off and further reduce parking times and take pressure off at peak times.
But as yet another opponent points out in her own letter of objection, “The idea that a kiss-n-ride program and two boulevard parking spots would meet the needs of a facility with a staff of 16-18 and up to 82 children is nonsensical. Noise is a concern as well as the alterations necessary to convert this historical property into a daycare.”