Burning question: Site of a new Saugatuck Fire Station
Published 7:14 am, Friday, August 23, 2013
Would the Saugatuck section of town be better served if that area's firehouse were moved from its current location -- between Bridge Square and The Whelk restaurant on Riverside Avenue -- to a town-owned parcel next to Riverside Park?
That's the hotly contested question that will be considered Wednesday night by the Long Range Planning Committee of the Representative Town Meeting.
During Superstorm Sandy, the Saugatuck fire station suffered approximately $15,000 in damage. The early-20th century building is in the flood zone along the Saugatuck River, and fire officials, including Chief Andrew Kingsbury, wonder if it's time to find new accommodations that will serve the community better.
"It needs to obviously be replaced," Kingsbury said.
But where should it go?
There seems to be no consensus. The only point that most people seem to agree upon is that the station needs to remain on the western side of the Saugatuck River. But most of that area is low-lying and prone to flooding, so finding a suitable new site is difficult.
The town lot adjacent to Riverside Park is not the place, said Steve Niss, who lives on Raymond Place across from the park and is a member of a group called Preserve Saugatuck.
"We really feel strongly that park should be protected, but that it should be built up so people can use it, because there's very few spaces like that on the river anymore," said Niss, an investment manager.
Niss said Saugatuck-based firefighters helped save his home two decades ago, so he recognizes and appreciates the need of having a station in the neighborhood. But the Riverside Park area -- along the waterfront, in an area that might be prone to flooding, too -- is not appropriate, he said.
"We don't care what the probability is (of moving the station there), how low it is, we want to make sure this doesn't happen because we want to protect the park and we want to build it out," Niss said.
Dewey Loselle, a member of the Long Range Planning Committee, said residents are unduly alarmed about the potential of the firehouse being relocated to the Riverside Park area.
"I understand, people get upset when something's being proposed. It's not being proposed. It's just being explored as an idea," Loselle said. "The idea of the Long Range Planning Committee is that we do look at things 10 years out. That's sort of our mantra, to think about things that no one is really thinking about yet. Not to propose action things."
Niss and others have wondered if there are other suitable sites on the western side of the river. Luciano Park has been floated as a possibility, but Kingsbury and others said that area floods regularly and would not be appropriate.
The tract near Riverside Park is being looked at because the town already owns it, Loselle said, adding that town officials recognize the site might have issues of its own.
"We knew there were issues that had to be looked at. There are wetlands issues potentially, there are soil issues, there are setback issues, there are conservation issues," he said. "So the idea was, `Let's look and see if it's even possible on this land.' That's about as far as it's gone."
The Wednesday meeting is set for 8 p.m. in Room 201 of Town Hall.