Salisbury Press

Sunday, July 12, 2020

SALISBURY TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

Wednesday, June 17, 2020 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Local News

Western fire station project on hold; Green Acres Park location stopped

The Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners has halted plans to build a new Western Salisbury Volunteer Fire Company Station in Green Acres Park.

No vote was taken during the June 11 commissioners’ meeting. The fire station was discussed during a workshop that following the meeting. Binding votes are not taken at workshops.

Four township commissioners said during the workshop they oppose constructing a fire station in the park.

The approximate one-hour discussion during the workshop was held via Zoom with as many as 72 participants listed, including, at times, 35 listed on the Zoom chat format.

Green Acres residents expressed opposition to the fire station being built in a portion of the park during the June 11 workshop, as they did at the May 28 commissioners meeting.

At the June 11 workshop, one resident said a petition to oppose the fire station in Green Acres had about 80 signatures.

“We will look at alternatives. At this point, we are not putting it on Green Acres. But we will have to vote on it,” board of commissioners President Debra Brinton said.

“We need to rethink it. We’d like to look at other options,” Brinton said.

“We don’t want it if you don’t want it,” Commissioner Heather Lipkin said to the residents at the Zoom meeting.

“At this point, I’m voting no for that spot. Why would I want to jam something down your throat?” Commissioner James Seagreaves said to residents.

“We need to consider the options,” board of commissioners Vice President Rodney Conn said.

Township officials had begun a pre-loan application to the United States Department of Agriculture for a 40-year, low-interest loan to finance the proposed $3.2-million Western fire station at Green Acres.

“If it’s not put at Green Acres Park, that will negate the loan,” Salisbury Township Manager Cathy Bonaskiewich said.

“That was as far as we got,” Bonaskiewich said of the USDA loan pre-review, adding, “If it’s not going to be at Green Acres, that process would be stopped.”

Salisbury Township Assistant Township Manager Sandy Nicolo said, “The design of the building has been put on hold. Everything’s put on hold.”

When asked in a phone interview after the June 11 meeting about the need for a vote by commissioners to rescind the proposed location of the Western fire station in Green Acres, Bonaskiewich said to a reporter for The Press, “I don’t know that that would be necessary. There was no formal action to vote on the location previously.”

Salisbury Township officials announced at the May 28 board of commissioners’ meeting the June 2 zoning hearing board was postponed. The Western fire station was the first item on the June 2 zoning hearing agenda.

At the May 28 commissioners’ meeting, also held via Zoom, residents said the fire station will ruin Green Acres Park, affect the quality of life in the neighborhood and reduce the values of their homes.

An artist’s rendering of the Western fire station was presented at the March 12 township board of commissioners meeting. The proposed 13,000-square foot fire station was on a 0.9-acre portion of Green Acres Park.

The recommendation the township build a new Western fire station was contained in the emergency services study by Duane Hagelgans, of Duane Hagelgans Consulting, presented to commissioners Feb. 28, 2019. The 142-page report was commissioned April 26, 2018. The township funded the construction of Eastern Salisbury Fire Company, East Emmaus Avenue and Honeysuckle Road.

The one-story Western station had been expected to go out for bid in June, with groundbreaking in September and completion in fall 2021.

At the conclusion of the June 11 workshop, Brinton asked commissioners for direction.

“I think we need a meeting with Western and Swain,” Lipkin said.

In the post-meeting phone interview with The Press, Bonaskiewich said a meeting will be planned between Western Salisbury Volunteer Fire Company, The Swain School and township officials.

Western Salisbury Volunteer Fire Company had received township planning and zoning approval for a $2.5-million project to renovate and expand its Swain Fire Station.

Western had sought to finance renovation of the Swain Station through a combination of fundraising and allocations from the township.

The Swain Station is on land donated to the fire company by The Swain School. A reverter clause states should the fire company cease operations, the land would revert to Swain.

Township officials have said they were reluctant to commit public funding for the Swain location if the reverter clause was intact. Township officials and Swain officials met but apparently were unable to resolve the matter of the reverter clause.

During the June 11 meeting, John Kelly, a member of the board of trustees of Western Salisbury Volunteer Company and a volunteer fire firefighter with the company, said, “The reverter clause has two main statements. It was issued with the main deed in 1971. Swain donated the land. If it stopped being a fire station, the land would go back to Swain.

“When you revisit the issue, you should revisit the reverter clause. The only time Swain would have that land is if it’s no longer used as a fire company,” Kelly said.

Western Salisbury Volunteer Fire Company celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.

“It took us three years to get where we’re at,” Western Salisbury Volunteer Fire Company Fire Chief Joshua Wells said. “I need to know what I can say and what our volunteers can expect.

“I’m looking for you to support us and not let this take another three years for us to be ready to build a building,” Wells said.

“We need to expedite this process,” Conn said.

Following is a sampling of what some of the residents said at the June 11 Zoom township meeting.

Jeffrey Seybolt, who spearheaded the opposition to the Western fire station project for Green Acres Park, said, “I wanted to thank the commissioners for having this open discussion tonight.

“Our first recommendation is that you go with the original plan. The architect came up with a design. The zoning hearing board had approved the plan.

“Second, revisit other locations.”

Marilyn Hazelton, said, “I’m very relieved. Things have shifted dramatically concerning this. Have you had the time to think about a new path?”

Carrie Ballek, citing 1967 Public Law 992, said, “Township ordinance needs to follow state law ... preserving land for open spaces. The park has to stay a park.”

Elizabeth Collins said of Western’s Swain Station, “I think it will be beneficial to keep it on the same property.”

Michael Greenholt said, “The public is looking to support Western Salisbury despite any agreement.”

Marc Albanese said, “I do think with the fifth ward not having representation right now, things need to be put on hold.

“I think the community is hurting right now with the closing of the school, and I think building the fire company would mean a lot right now,” Albanese said.