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A ‘discretionary use’ is just that: It’s no slam dunk

Whether you’re buying or leasing commercial real estate, a municipality’s zoning bylaw tells you...

Whether you’re buying or leasing commercial real estate, a municipality’s zoning bylaw tells you where you can locate your business.

The City of Saskatoon bylaw lists permitted uses and prohibited uses, which are pretty straightforward by definition.

A discretionary use, however, is identified as a use the city might allow, but would require a more thorough investigation before it will issue approvals and permits.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) is quickly finding out that a discretionary use in the City of Saskatoon is far from a slam dunk, though.

Maybe is no guarantee

STC has applied at city hall to operate a preschool in the primarily residential neighbourhood of Montgomery. With about a dozen preschools already located in residential neighbourhoods around the city, it would seem STC has a good chance of seeing this discretionary use approved.

But as part of their approval process, city council has asked for the input of neighbouring property owners.

A preschool is far from what most people would consider a nuisance to their neighbourhoods. Montgomery residents, however, have voiced their aversion toward it.

Opposing neighbours in Montgomery could bend the ear of Council to ultimately turn the use down.

What are they so worried about?

Preschool use hits home

The idea of a preschool located in a residential neighbourhood hits homes for me. I grew up in a house which operated as a private preschool for my entire childhood.

The Unity Private Preschool operated with afternoon-only classes four days a week, with up to 18-20 students per session in my parents’ basement.

My father and I were just chatting about the Montgomery situation in the news. He had a chuckle when he realized they likely never sought the approval of their neighbours!

Of course, my mother’s preschool was operating in a small town with much broader municipal zoning bylaws.

A quick conversation with her confirmed she never encountered any conflict with her neighbours, though she think she knows why:

“My neighbours weren’t home, most of them were at work during my business hours,” she notes.

Potential impacts on neighbours

Even if they were, she theorizes, they were only impacted by traffic approximately 10 minutes on either side of her minimal operating hours. The Montgomery preschool would have likely even less traffic; its operators have stated they’ll be primarily busing-in the students.

While she would not oppose a preschool next door to her home, my mother thinks there might be a legitimate reason folks in Montgomery are bothered by the idea.

“My business operated in a private home. We lived there,” she points out. “People may be upset at the commercialization, in general, of a residential building next door to them.”

No one purchases a single-family home and expects a business to open next door in an area zoned residential, so to that end I’d have to agree.

Come on, Montgomery, let the kids play

Here’s where I add an extra level to this conversation . . . Not only was I was raised in a preschool, I became a preschool teacher before moving to a career in commercial real estate.

Here are a few quick thoughts which might be worth considering regarding the day-to-day operations of a preschool.

Preschools are not daycares and they run incredibly short hours in comparison. Even with morning and afternoon classes, most are open from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.

Even if a playground is established, I would expect students to be outside occasionally, no more than 10-15 minutes at the end of their program hours.

Which brings me to my last point, if everyone is respectful you shouldn’t have an issue.

My mother says she tried to encourage car pools to limit the number of parents arriving and departing from her street. She also reiterated a lecture several times per year to remind people not to block neighbouring driveways.

How will this end?

Without living in Montgomery I can only speculate what is causing residents there to be so openly vocal against the preschool.

Assuming the preschool meets all zoning and building code requirements, do you feel neighbours’ bias toward the use should sway the discretionary use approval process?

Or should the city look at the plan in front of it, weigh the merits of what’s being proposed and proceed with a use it has approved in many other residentially zoned neighbourhoods?

Stay tuned to find out!

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