Sunday, August 9, 2009
Planning Commission Discusses New Fire Station
At its August meeting, the Planning Commission conducted an "11 52 2" site plan review (location,character and extent) -- for a new fire station -- proposed by the Fairhope Volunteer Fire Dept. Inc.--to be located just northeast of the Publix grocery store on Parker Rd. Planner Johnathan Smith said the proposed 8,300 sq. ft., 3 bay station would be located in the Fly Creek PUD on townhouse zoned lots-- and designed to be manned around the clock (24/7). Smith said he had received calls from Rock Creek/Sandy Ford Subdivision residents worried their abutting street "stubs" would be opened up to the fire trucks-- but explained that could only be done by action of the City Council after public consideration/hearings. The owner (Corte) would stipulate no sirens could be activated until the fire trucks reached HWY 98, Smith added. Fire Chief Saraceno said that an independent survey done in 1996 revealed the need for a new station north of town (if rapid growth continued); and in 2006--when last rated by ISO-- they (ISO) said the city SHALL have a north station (roughly between South Dr. and Parker Rd). "Our jurisdiction will be covered 100% at that point. The whole city will be adequately covered then." Bob Clark said he too had received calls, from Parker Rd residents, concerned about fire truck noise-- and asked if the station would respond to "every call" in town. Chief Saraceno replied that was not necessarily so: only if the other stations needed help. Clark went on to comment he has 2 volunteer fireman living in his neighborhood that he hears constantly-- responding to calls: "About the time all the cats get settled down and everybody's quiet at my house-- here comes the second one! . . . but it really doesn't really bother me . . . I'm glad they're going." Commissioner Kant, responding to critical comments made earlier in the meeting by a Parker Rd. resident: "We've been looking for a place for 10 years. I may be mistaken-- but I don't ever recall a location on 98 ever being discussed-- because of all the traffic. You'd need a light to get out. We did look at places in Village North, on HWY 104 and another spot on Parker Rd. though. Wherever it was placed, it was going to be at a major intersection." Commissioner Charles: "What about the firemen? They need to be well rested. You put it out on 98-- and with all the traffic noise they wouldn't sleep. It seems to me it ended up in a good place." Parker Rd. resident Paul Ripp shouted from the audience, " What about the neighborhood Mr. Charles? You're not going to worry about how the people in the 16 homes facing that fire station sleep?" Ripp had claimed earlier during "public comments" on another (related) agenda item-- that in 2006 when the Fly Creek PUD was first being considered by this Commssion-- his neighborhood was assured the station was to be located "out on HWY 98"-- away from the homes. [Publisher's note: Mr. Charles seems mistaken here; none of Fairhope's stations have ever been "manned" overnight. There are no paid professional firemen on duty 24/7 as in some neighboring towns. "Volunteer" firemen--responding from their work/homes-- come get the trucks/equipment as needed. (Although the Fire Chief and 3 so-called "station keepers" are on the city payroll (according to usually reliable sources)-- with combined salaries of $427,500 in this year's budget--according to the city's website)] ****[Publisher's Correction: All of the city's Police dispatchers are also included in the $427,000 budgeted this year for "Fire Dept. Salaries"-- and an additional $84,000 is budgeted for "fire call payments"-- presumably to individual firemen] Commissioner Kant: "It still has to come back for another public hearing-- at the site plan review." Planner Smith rose and challenged Kant's claim: 'Its my understanding after an "11 52 2 review" for a governmental entity-- there will be no other site plan review--they can start construction. Another hearing would be needed only for the subdivision request." Kant: "As I understand it--that's correct." Smith: "I just wanted to clear that up." [Publishers Note: According to the Internal Revenue Service, the Fairhope Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.(corporation # 743-110)-- is classified as a "public charity." ] Commissioner Gary Moore questioned the lack of prior public notice given for locating such a potentially bothersome operation in someone's neighborhood: "Is this just a newspaper agenda item? Do we have signs posted on the property." Kant: "I mentioned we'd be discussing a new station . . . at my last press conference." Smith:"There is currently no such specific legal requirement (to notify neighborhood residents). We do e-mail all our owner's associations." Moore: "I have lived near fire stations and I didn't sleep every night. I'm concerned we do things sometimes that . . . wider dissemination's needed to encourage folks who may be affected by something like this in the future--to have a say and opportunity to comment." The 11 52 2 review for the new station was approved--with Commissioner Moore voting no.