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Mitchell City Council gives daycare OK despite neighbors' safety concerns

“Erika cares for the children as if they are her own. We know that safety is her top priority,” Abby Carmody said of the Mitchell daycare provider.

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Shown here is the steep hill along Chalkstone Drive that residents are concerned could create safety hazards for children at a proposed daycare near the area.
Sam Fosness / Republic

MITCHELL — A Mitchell resident’s quest to operate a daycare center at a location that’s sparked safety concerns from several nearby residents was given the green light Tuesday to continue operating.

After several parents of children who attend the daycare spoke in support of the provider’s operation during Tuesday’s meeting, the Mitchell City Council unanimously approved Erika Zilla’s conditional use permit to operate at her 1105 Chalkstone Dr. home.

Abby Carmody, a mother whose child is one being cared for by Zilla, touted Zilla’s ability to provide a safe and caring environment, noting the safety of her children while at the daycare has “never once been a concern for us.”

“Erika cares for the children as if they are her own. We know that safety is her top priority,” Carmody said of Zilla. “It takes a special kind of person to care for little children, and Erika more than meets those qualifications. Her ability to remember everything about each child just blew me away, which was a sure sign she paid attention more than anyone.”

While Zilla received the go-ahead to continue operating, the council hashed out some of the concerns that were raised among nearby residents. The main concern centered around a road that’s on a downward hill in front of Zilla’s daycare, which some residents allege could cause accidents involving drivers and children at play.

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During the Feb. 14 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting when Zilla’s permit was discussed and received a 4-2 approval of recommendation, John Heemstra, a resident living near the proposed daycare, pointed to the steep slope of the hill along Chalkstone Drive that he says has been known to cause increased driving speeds as an area that could create safety hazards if children are playing nearby.

“I had a mailbox on the north side of the street across Chalkstone Drive that was taken out by a car some years ago while they were speeding up the hill,” Heemstra said during the Feb. 14 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. “That’s an example of some of the driving we’ve seen on that hill.”

However, Council member Steve Rice pointed out that Zilla’s driveway is lengthy enough that it could avoid children having to come within a close distance to the sloped road.

“There is plenty of room in the driveway where kids can be picked up,” Rice said.

Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said the traffic data he’s looked at does not show there’s been a history of more crashes occurring in the area near Zilla’s home compared to other similar residential areas.

“The accidents aren’t higher or lower in that area compared to similar areas,” Schroeder said.

Zilla spoke about her daycare operation during the Feb. 14 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting and emphasized that she puts safety of the children above everything else. She highlighted her 14 years of experience in operating a daycare without running into any safety issues as an example to show concerned residents she knows how to operate a safe daycare.

Zilla said she would be watching around eight to 12 children around 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each week. She ran a daycare out of her home on the east side of Mitchell for nearly 10 years before moving to the new residence on Chalkstone Drive. Since she moved to the area, she’s required to secure a conditional use permit.

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“Safety is my number one priority for the kids and families. People do come down the hill from the west side pretty fast,” she said.

Harriet Baldwin, a Mitchell preschool teacher with over three decades of experience, spoke in support of Zilla’s permit request, dubbing Zilla’s daycare a “gold star standard” childcare provider in Mitchell.

“We need more Erikas in Mitchell,” Baldwin said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, none of the nearby residents who submitted letters in opposition to Zilla’s daycare spoke. Rather, the only residents who spoke on behalf of the daycare were in support of Zilla’s permit.

Related Topics: LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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