By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The

Albemarle County Planning Commission

has endorsed one potential location for a new fire station in the Pantops area, despite concerns by one Commissioner that the one acre site will use up land designated as open space.


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The owners of Peter Jefferson Place have offered to donate the land to the County to build the Pantops Fire Station. A maintenance shed and sewer pump station currently occupy the site, which is otherwise considered open space.

The proposal is to build a 7,500 square feet building, which would include space for living quarters and bays for a fire engine and an ambulance. The facility would be smaller than the Hollymead and Monticello stations operated by the County. The station would be staffed by County employees during the day and volunteers at night.


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Commissioners Linda Porterfield, Cal Morris and Tom Loach


In order to accept the land, the Planning Commission needed to confirm whether the site would conform to the County’s comprehensive plan. Planning Commissioner

Cal Morris

(Rivanna), a member of the

Pantops Community Advisory Council

, took the opportunity to discuss one concern of that group.

“The Pantops steering committee is extremely concerned that this is going to take away from our green space,” Morris said. “Green space in the Pantops area is very, very precious.”

Commissioners weighed the merits of open space versus a need to improve fire service in one of the County’s designated growth areas.

Chairman

Eric Strucko

(Samuel Miller) said the County has a goal for five-minute response times, which are currently not met in the Pantops area. “In order to reach this goal, we need more facilities,” Strucko said.

Fire service in the Pantops area is currently provided by the City of Charlottesville on a contract basis, with back-up from the East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company near

Glenmore

. In 2007, the City averaged a ten minute response time to Pantops.

Albemarle pays Charlottesville up to $800,000 a year for the service. The current contract expires in 2013, and Albemarle Fire Chief Dan Eggleston said the price will likely increase if the County wants to renew.

“We have on the one hand trying to achieve that five minute goal, and on the other hand we have to replace that consistent [response by an] engine company that comes out of the City,” Eggleston said. “We feel like this is the best bet at this point.”






The fire station is to be built near this maintenance shed, according to Fire Chief Eggleston




Ron Lilley, a project manager in the County’s facilities development office, said similar sites that would allow the County to meet the response time goal would cost between $1 and $3 million. The County had previously budgeted $2.7 million to purchase land and to do site work and engineering.  With a land donation, the overall projects costs are significantly reduced. The fire station is now estimated to cost $3 million, according to Lilley.

“It seems to me that it’s prudent for us to do something good for the taxpayers,” said Commissioner

Linda Porterfield

(Scottsville). “If the money is there and we can build a fire station on a free piece of land, it just seems like that’s the thing to do.”

Eggleston said the station would be built behind the existing maintenance shed, and every attempt would be made to blend it into the landscape. If the project moves forward, station is expected to open by April 2013.

The six Commissioners present voted unanimously to declare the site as being consistent with the comprehensive plan. Next, Albemarle County staff will continue to pursue the transaction with Peter Jefferson Place and to secure funding from the Board of Supervisors as part of the County’s capital budget.


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