Town evaluates options for new fire station

The town continues to inch closer to selecting a property for a new fire station in the northwestern quadrant of Greenwich after recently narrowing the choice to three potential sites, but the process remains a slow one.

The saga began eight years ago when the town purchased property at 1327 King Street with intentions of constructing a new four-person firehouse to go along with a station there for Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS). Increased population in the area and issues with response time had proven that more adequate fire coverage in that part of town was needed.

However, first it was determined that GEMS would not be able to use the property and then the town’s finance board balked at the price of getting the property to the right standard of use for the fire department. These decisions came after a long history of seeking approvals for the project.

According to First Selectman Peter Tesei, the town initially used the King Street property to house GEMS personnel while renovations were being made to the Glenville firehouse. It then took two full budget cycles for the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) to appropriate funds to design the new station, Mr. Tesei said. Even then, the funds were conditional. The town could spend the money contingent upon providing the BET with adequate information on the property’s suitability for development, specifically regarding the ability to support a septic tank and a well.

Problems determining where to place the septic tank arose after the property was found to have poor soil quality, Mr. Tesei explained. More importantly, the issue of being able to accommodate GEMS was still at hand. Furthermore, another $700,000 would have to be spent on the property to realign the driveway with the golf course next door.

In light of these problems, Mr. Tesei said, the BET asked the town to research alternate sites for the new fire station.

Accepting yet another delay to the process, the town sent letters to a broad network of areas with property that might be conducive to the construction of a firehouse, and received about a dozen responses, Mr. Tesei explained. After a working group reviewed six of these locations, the potential properties were narrowed to two.

The ideal option between the two would be a site at the corner of John Street and Riversville Road, which could be purchased for approximately $3 million, Mr. Tesei said. The potential problem is that a house sits on the property and most likely could not be torn down due to its historic value.

In both an interview with the Post this week and while giving an update on the process at the Aug. 9 Board of Selectmen meeting, Mr. Tesei expressed reluctance to tear down the house should the town purchase the property. But that would then lead to the issue of what could be done about the house. Mr. Tesei said last week that the owner of this property had not been looking to sell it right now after having only purchased it last year for $2.8 million. Instead, the owner was considering improving it before allowing the property to be rented or sold.

The second option came from a corporate entity that approached the town but has conditions regarding its employee capacity at the site, should the town choose to use the property, he explained. This property would be donated to the town, but would come with a condition that town has to provide the property owner with “additional capacity” for its employees, which has been previously sought and denied by the town.

The idea might be to utilize the Round Hill Volunteer Fire Company’s station, which is on private property, for a backcountry station, but Mr. Tesei said the fire department is not convinced that this will solve response time issues and could present new issues by having town employees working on privately owned property.

“It sounds great to put people there, but there are implications to it,” Mr. Tesei said at the selectmen’s meeting.

Ultimately, negotiations regarding the purchase of new property are the responsibility of the first selectman, Mr. Tesei said. Nevertheless, any decision he makes will involve the approval of the BET, Representative Town Meeting, Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals and potentially the Board of Selectmen as a whole. He pledged that he would not negotiate any sale price through the press.

Getting approval of this magnitude is a “challenging undertaking,” Mr. Tesei commented. He said last week that he will bring the options to the BET and allow it to evaluate them because he isn’t sure where the board stands now on the project.

“The only way to know is to propose something and require them to them to have a debate and take a vote,” Mr. Tesei said.

As to timing, Mr. Tesei said he would like the purchase of the firehouse property to at the very least be involved in the discussion of the budget process because if the town does not get support to move forward with one of the sites, it must go back to the drawing board.

“Hopefully we will bring it to a head sometime in the fall,” Mr. Tesei said.

The town’s existing commitments, however, will not be cast to the back burner, Mr. Tesei stressed.

“I am for completing what we started, no question” in terms of projects like Music Instructional Space and Auditorium (MISA). “But at the same time I think we made a commitment to provide fire protection at this location” and it needs to be pushed forward, he said.

If the town does not use its property on King Street, the new fire station will cost roughly $5 million to $6 million, considering the purchase price of the new property and the cost of construction, Mr. Tesei said. If the town somehow acquires a favorable lease or property that was donated, the cost would include construction only.

The approval of a property, however, may be a long time coming.

Mr. Tesei said he must first present the three potential sites and lay out all of the obstacles associated with each. From there, he said, it is up to the other decision makers involved in the process to make a selection and to be held accountable for it.

 

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