Fire station plans OK'd

Fire Station No. 2 is one step closer to being "shovel-ready" after the Planning Commission approved a proposal to replace the aging building at its Tuesday night meeting.

But at least six of the eight commission members present at the Civic Center meeting said they were concerned that the new design was too urban and might create a different feel on Ashland Street.

Commission member Melanie Mindlin also said that because the 1860 Ashland St. proposal called for so many planning variances, it appeared that the city was sidestepping its own rules.

"Here's the city not following their own regulations, and I don't think it sets a very good example for the public as a whole," she said.

Mindlin was the only commission member to vote against the project, which won approval in a 7-1 vote. Commission member Tom Dimitre was absent from the meeting.

In an attempt to get federal stimulus money for the new fire station, city officials are trying to quickly move the proposal through Ashland's development process.

The project must be considered "shovel-ready" in order to receive the stimulus funds.

After the meeting, Fire Chief John Karns said he was relieved to have cleared the Planning Commission hurdle.

Responding to the criticism from some of the commissioners, Karns said he felt the new design would fit in well with the neighborhood.

"I think it's very complementary to a residential setting," he said. "I think people will drive by and not even know it's a fire station."

During the meeting, commission member Larry Blake said he thought the proposed building might look out of place on Ashland Street.

"The way it's situated on there, to me, it looks like you've got a big program and a small site," he said.

"I guess that's my concern: It looks like an urban situation."

Buildings on that portion of Ashland Street are typically required to be at least 36 feet from the sidewalk curb, but the proposed building would stand about 26 feet from the curb, said Derek Severson, associate planner for the city.

The fire station proposal is a scaled-down version of plans created in 2006, when the city unsuccessfully tried to get voters to approve a $5.5 million bond to pay for the new building.

The new plans call for only three vehicle bays instead of the original seven, Severson said.

The new drawings also show a smaller building, unlike the original proposal, which called for a building that would have encroached on nearby Sherwood Park.

Under the new plans, the existing fire station on the property would be demolished and a 10,076-square-foot, two-story building would be built in its place.

The existing one-story, 2,300-square-foot building doesn't meet safety-code requirements and is too small to house all of the station's fire equipment and vehicles, Karns said.

In addition the station, built in 1965 by volunteers, has a retro feel and cramped quarters, he said.

"It needs to be replaced," he said. "We're just trying to be as efficient and effective as possible in serving the community."

Although the city did not receive the first stimulus grant it applied for, officials hope to apply for more grants to fund the project, Karns said.

If the city doesn't secure grant money to replace the fire station, it may again try to get voters to approve a bond to pay for the construction.

Perhaps no one will be as pleased to hear the fire station plans were approved as the firefighters who work there, said Karns, who moved to Ashland two months ago, after working in Beverly Hills, Calif.

"It's probably not as good for me as the people who have been here awhile," he said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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