Firehouse Site Proposals Meeting Stiff Opposition

Town Topics
18 November, 1987

Firehouse Site Proposals Meeting Stiff Opposition
Barbara L. Johnson

Locating a firehouse in the Township is proving as difficult as finding a site on which to build 20 units of low, income rental housing with a  $1.6 million federal grant.

Having run into stiff opposition from the Recreation Department, the Recreation Board and Witherspoon Street neighbors to putting the firehouse in the Community Park pool complex parking lot, Township Committee began anew last Monday night to consider four possible sites. The latest thought — placing the firehouse in of adjacent to the Community Park North parking lot as recommended by the Recreation Department — was eliminated, but Committee was not able to come to any stronger conclusion than that.

In a related development, the Planning Board’s concept review of various schemes for locating the firehouse in the vicinity of Witherspoon Street and Valley Road. scheduled for this Thursday, has been postponed. The postpone-ment is due partly to the fact that municipal officials are attending a conference in Atlantic City this week.

Architect Jerry Ford remind-ed Township Committee that if has been almost a year _since his firm submitted its original report on behalf of the Facilities Committee. The CoMmittee was set up to ar-rive at a master plan for all the Township municipal facilities, including the police department and the municipal offices.

Three sites have been considered, of which two were favored because they involve property already owned by the Township and do not require either condemnation or the cooperation of the School Board.

One proposed building an addition to the rear of the Public Works garage to house the fire trucks and using the existing building for social and support services for the firemen. Terhune Road between Mt. Lucas and Route 206 would be closed in this scheme, which was not favored by the Planning Board because the narrowing triangular site is too cramped.

Of particular concern was the ability of the fire trucks, which would not be allowed to exit onto Route 206, to negoti-ate the acutely-angled turn on-to Mt. Lucas. Under this scheme the Public Works Department would have to be relocated, and as Mr. Ford noted Monday night, given the amount of time it is taking to locate the [Rehouse, “just think how long it would take to find a suitable place for the Public Works garage.”

The Planning Board favored the Community Park pool parking lot site instead, although members raised questions about safety and the traffic on Witherspoon Street. This site is particularly welcomed by the fire department and the architect because it presents the fewest obstacles to early construction. Township Committee was also in agreement on the suitability of this site. However, the Recreation Department and the Recreation Board are opposed to this location for several reasons. The primary one is the safety of children coming to the pool in the summertime when there are no crossing guards.

The Department also objects to the “squaring off” of the parking lot for a net gain of 72 additional parking spaces because doing so would intrude into the wading pool area. Mr.Ford contends the parking lot is “inefficient” as presently configured and that because the lot is heavily used by many constituents, additional spaces would be a benefit.

The Recreation Department also objects to the loss of the mature trees that were planted to enhance the Community Pool complex.

Another concern is the relocation of the Recreation Department office, which the Department Feels should be in close proximity to Raman facilities. There does not appear to be a suitable space (for the relocated office) on the Community Park site,” according to a Recreation Department memo outlining its objections, to the proposal.

Finally, the Department says  that construction will have a severe impact on its programs, especially between April 15 and September 10, and on its financial solvency. “The Recreation Board shares with the community a concern over proper facilities to provide fire and police protection,” states the memo. “The Board cannot condone a plan which jeopardizes the function of an excellent recreation program either in terms of quality or in terms of lost revenue.”

Third Possible Site. A third site under consideration is the Tiger Garage-Williamson Construction building next to Conti’s Restaurant. But this building is privately owned and would require acquisition or condemnation, followed by demolition.

“Not one of these sites lacks constituents who are opposed to it,” remarked Mr. Ford at Monday night’s meeting. This view was echoed by Judge Sydney Souter, who served on the Facilities Study Committee, who spoke as a private citizen. Judge Souter said he was opposed to the Community Park pool parking lot site as “too much activity being proposed for too small a space.”

He asked Committee if it would “entertain the idea” of acquiring private property by negotiation or condemnation. He also raised the question of the size of the proposed firehouse, which is depicted by the architect as having five bays. Mr. Souter asked if the new firehouse was intended to replace the Chestnut Street firehouse as well as the Chambers Street facility, which was the primary subject of the Shand report recommending a new firehouse in the Township.

Mr. Ford said the size of the firehouse and the number of bays was a separate issue from the location; a smaller fire-house could be put on any one of the four proposed sites but might not be sensible in terms of the growth of the town and its eventual needs.

Mention of the Chestnut Street firehouse also raised the question of whether the Borough would contribute more money to a facility that was replacing two firehouses in-stead of the one that was originally intended. It was noted that the Township had not been successful in getting the Borough to contribute to the Township-commissioned study on relocating the Chambers Street firehouse.

Carol Wojciechowicz, who chairs the Facilities Study Committee, said it was “a toss-up” whether the Community Park pool parking lot or the Williamson Garage was Committee’s first choice. Mr. Short said that from the point of view of “political reality” the pool parking lot was preferable because “the site is there, and we could move expeditiously.” Moreover the pool site does not have the high first costs in terms of acquisition or relocation that the Williamson Ga-rage site and the Public Works garage site have, he said.

“What it boils down to is finances,” Mrs. Wojciechowicz told Committee, asking for some direction in how to proceed. From the audience, Robert Sinkler, a longtime Witherspoon Street residence, raised many of the objections to the Community Pool parking lot site he has raised in other forums. However, Mr. Sinkler said he would not be opposed to putting the firehouse across the street on the Tiger Garage site.

Conte’s Would Be Cut Off. However, Louis Luccaro, son-in-law of Mrs. Conte, who owes the restaurant next to the Tiger Garage, offered his objections. He told the board there would be problems with sewer lines behind the property. However his main objection seemed to he that the restaurant would be “cut off” by the firehouse. “Conte’s would be so isolated,” he said. “How could we operate?”

The final speaker was Acting Police Chief Jack Petrone, a former fireman, who took issue with several of the allegations about safety made by the Recreation Department. Chief Petrone has been sitting on the Facilities Study Commission since assuming former Chief Anthony Pirelli’s position.

Chief Petrone said he was originally for the Public Works garage site until the town-ship’s traffic consultant persuaded him that would not be suitable. “1 agree 100 percent with the architect,” Chief Petrone said in firm tones. “As police chief 1 do not feel there is a safety problem.”

He said that the school and the pool generate more traffic than the firehouse will and that only two or three firemen go straight to the firehouse in response to a call — the rest go straight to the site. He acknowledged that there were eight accidents a year at the intersection of Valley Road and Wither-. spoon Street, largely caused by “vehicles failing to stop at the stop sign. But a traffic signal is proposed at that intersection.

He said that the police supply regular police officers to cross children to the summer day camp operated by the Recreation Department at Community Park North. And finally he noted that the 4,000 pool ticket holders do not present a safety problem for the police, who are responsible for 15,000 to 20,000 people in the Township.

Committeeman Tom Poole told the Facilities Committee that it should consider sites which will have to be acquired or condemned, but he said, “We’re not giving them a blank check.” On that note Committee felt it Would have to convene in closed session to consider the costs involved in the William-son Garage site — and how much it could ask of the Borough — before it could make a firm site selection.

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