By Sarah Richardson
Better accessibility at the Lewisburg Fire Department’s new station and the person who owns the strip of land that would enable it were the center of a discussion at Lewisburg City Council. The property, which is located next to the site of the upcoming Lewisburg Fire Station, brought Sharon Hayes before the council to express dissatisfaction with the plan and ask questions about the future of the station.
The city has been planning to relocate Fire Station No. 1 for some time due to space constraints with their current site and maintenance issues with old structure. The building has been a city council concern for years, and it has kept the department from expanding to accommodate their larger workforce and fleet. The new parcel of land acquired for the fire station is located near the Lewisburg Cinema 8 movie theater off of Grand Avenue, and Hayes represents the property adjacent to this parcel that runs along Carpenter Drive.
After a lengthy executive session held during the November city council meeting, it was unanimously voted to approve the purchase of the 2.5 acre tract for up to $600,000 from Barnette Development.
Hayes said she was approached by Lewisburg Fire Chief Joey Thomas about potentially selling a 50-foot wide strip of property bordering the fire station site, which would help provide width needed to turn the fire trucks around.
“I have been approached by the fire chief back last summer as to whether or not I would be interested in selling a strip [of land], and I never gave him a yes or no,” said Haynes. “He has provided some information as to what they wanted. My understanding as to what his description was is that they wanted more room to turn the fire trucks around in front of the fire station, and somehow having a strip next to the property they were buying from Barnette would provide that.”
Unhappy with what she’s heard so far, she asked the city to clarify the site’s future plans.
“I have questions about what the intentions are going forward with the property for the fire station,” Hayes said. “Part of what I learned sitting in on planning commission meetings disturbed me a little bit, and I just wanted to hear more about what the intention was of city council and the planning commission going forward.”
Thomas explained that “the design is not complete for the fire house,” and they are just working to make sure the station “flows correctly,” which can be essential when responding to an emergency. “The property is approximately 200 feet across is all, and that’s why the whole time I’ve had discussions with her [Mrs. Hayes]. I thought we had discussions with city council in the past. … The property has been an 11-year search, and to stay somewhere reasonable close to our downtown station that was currently have, there is almost no open property left that we can move to. … The station itself will all be built on the Barnette property, there is no doubt that we can fit the station itself there, just if we can get out of the station without having everything face forward.”
Chief Thomas also noted that when they were asked by the planning commission if the structure could fit on the property, the answer was yes.
“The problem we have with the property, and we weren’t able to purchase any additional Barnette property that would help, is that our trucks have a 42-foot turn radius,” he explained. “When do you a 50-foot setback from the theatre road, which is required, it doesn’t really give us enough access out of the back side to be able to turn our large trucks in order to get back around to the front of the theater road. So what we are needing, and what I spoke to Mrs. Hayes in previous conversations with, is just a strip of land that we can basically put an access road back out onto Grand Avenue, beside the retention pond, kind of coming out of the back of what we’re purchasing back onto Grand Avenue.”
City Administrator Misty Hill added that Chief Thomas did “more than his share” in trying to receive a response from Mrs. Hayes to discuss the property. “He reached out to Mrs. Hayes so much that our city attorney Tom White expressed to him with Mayor and I that he could stop reaching out because we weren’t getting any response. … I don’t feel like this was a bombshell that was just dropped a couple weeks ago.”
Councilmember Joshua Edwards noted that the reason he personally voted in favor of purchasing the Barnette property is that, “fire stations are restricted to certain geographic areas called the First Due Area. Frankly, very few suitable areas are left undeveloped in our First Due Area. So that was my rationale, this was one of few pieces of property that was undeveloped. The price was reasonable based on our research, and that ‘s why I voted to purchase it.”
He emphasized that, “In my head, and in this body, no one has finalized a plan for the fire station or the parking lot of the fire station, for lack of a better term, so I think all those issues frankly remain to be discussed.”
Hayes voiced concerns that in later discussion with city administrators there she felt there was “an inkling, but not that it was said directly” of the city taking imminent domain of the strip of land. She then raised the question, “If that is adequate property to build the fire station, why is it that we are even discussing the strip of land that is owned by Airfields LLC, and I’m the managing member of that LLC?”
Councilmember Arron Seams responded that discussions of imminent domain were “putting the cart before the horse,” and Councilmember Mark Etten added that, “When we made the decision to purchase the property I was unaware that the overall plan, in any way, needed any of Mrs. Hayes property.”
Seams went on to say that, “from our understanding, and the information that council was given, is that the building itself of the new fire station would fit entirely on that piece of property that was purchased. I think any other considerations aren’t something that this body has even had a chance to see for turning the trucks around, etc.”
Mayor White ended the discussion in saying they will be “in further conversation” about this matter.