By Coty Kenneth
Meridian Times staff writer
It has been 17 months since the approval for a new fire department on Nov. 6, 2012. Meridian Township voters approved the new centrally located station, which is the same site that is now the cause of discontent and opposition from residents.
“The Meridian Township Central Fire Station bond proposal allowed the township to issue $3.5 million in general bonds in order to build the new fire department,” said Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie.
The request for a new centrally located fire station began as the condition of the original building became increasingly worse. The Central Station on Clinton street in Okemos had fallen into disrepair over the past few years but in the past 18 months has become unusable.
Fire Chief Fred Cowper said the department has tried to stay in the building because of the belief they would have a new fire station. The building had leaks in all areas of the station.
While the addition of the new fire station is agreed on, the location has brought discontent. The proposed site is four acres of a 28-acre parcel on the corner of Okemos Road and Central Park Drive.
Many say they were tricked, claiming that the ballot was unclear on the location.
“If I hadn’t re-read the ballot carefully, I too would have voted for this location. Which is my front yard,” said Betsy Strobl.
Residents of the Autumn Park Condominiums have opposed the project from the beginning. Concerns range from the noise of the alarms and trucks and the proximity of the station to their homes.
“A 60-ton fire truck roaring out of there at all hours of the day will disrupt domestic tranquility that we all deserve,” said Autumn Park resident Mike Anderson.
“I told my real estate agent, and I took time to come down to the township hall, to see how the condo is zoned,” said resident Jack Brandenburg. “I was told it was residential and that the land across the street was residential. I bought on that premise.”
Brandenburg, a three-year resident of Autumn Park, said he and his son moved into their home with expectation that the view would remain the same.
Condominium owners believe that the communication from the township was lacking, claiming no notice was given that those residential areas would be impacted.
“No one came to my door. No one called,” said Strobl. “No one even wrote a note to see how I felt.”
Residents have gone as far as to come up with alternate locations for the fire station. The plans for these different sites include a layout of the property, expenses and the impact on those in the vicinity.
Autumn Park Condominium owner Sue Simkin, said that the site should be moved to the property behind the farmer’s market. It saves money because there is already a parking lot and the fire department would be able to include the training tower. The noise would not be an issue because radius it travels does not include any residential areas said Simkin.
Concern for the preservation and care of the land is another argument by those in opposition. Issues range from wildlife to groundwater.
“We can’t wash our cars in our own garages because of groundwater vulnerability due to the township ordinance,” said Anderson. “How are the fire trucks going to get washed and not affect the groundwater?”
These questions, along with many other concerns were addressed at a March 24 Planning Commission meeting. Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber (FTCH) gave a presentation to the committee and residents in regard to the findings.
“The washing of the fire trucks will take place within the bays,” said Tom Bennett of FTCH. “The wash water will travel through a treatment basin then to the East Lansing Meridian Water and Sewer Authority treatment facility.”
FTCH said that the proposed project will not impact the wetlands on the site. Therefore, there is no room for state jurisdiction or township wetland regulation over the project, said Bennett.
After three months of meetings filled with anger and disagreement, Township Manager Frank Walsh organized a “compromise” meeting. With hopes of obtaining a resolution, Autumn Park Condominium owners and their attorney, Lawrence Nolan sat down on Feb. 19.
Officials have made it so the new plan will no longer incorporate a training tower, one of the major areas of discontent. The truck entrance was also shifted to Okemos Road, while the public entrance remains on Central Park Drive.
Walsh said that the meeting was productive and cordial, however, the township will still move forward with the original location due to majority vote.
“The fire station was reduced from approximately 15,000 square feet to about 14,000 square feet by removing the bay on the north side,” said Director of Community Planning Mark Kieselbach. “Additional trees are proposed to be planted to become a buffer.”
Opponents submitted an appeal to the board on March 31, to review the suitability of the project location. The planning commission passed this review but according to the township attorney, Andrea Ditschman there are no grounds for the appeal.
Residents were not happy with this decision.
“I spent 19 hours, almost a whole day, over six meetings in a room with commission people,” said Strobl. “Those that the board appointed to make these decisions. All I want is for them to uphold the views of those that they appointed to make these decisions.”
The site was one of many contenders for this project. Others were eliminated because of high-traffic areas, wildlife preservation and costs of demolition.
Gerald Richards a retired township manager said that the proposed site is the best and will continue to be the best because it is centrally located, especially amongst businesses in the area.
With the continuous opposition, it is believed that ground-breaking work will begin mid-July and the department will be fully functioning early 2015.
The link below is a custom google map of Meridian Township showing the locations of all fire departments both old and new, accompanied by photographs.