A.J. fire station site selection sparks squabble - East Valley Tribune: News

A.J. fire station site selection sparks squabble

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Posted: Sunday, April 6, 2008 10:35 pm | Updated: 12:08 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A posh Gold Canyon community is still seething over a recent Apache Junction Fire District land purchase, claiming hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted on a future fire station site.

Residents in the Vista del Corazon subdivision said they urged fire district officials to consider alternative sites nearby, but that two neighborhood meetings held in November to discuss the matter were treated as a formality.

The fire district board approved the nearly $475,000 land purchase anyway, they said, without considering the additional expense to prepare the land. That land is more like a hollow, the residents said, at about 20 feet below the adjacent Don Donnelly trail.

"(Fire officials) just wanted to slip it through," resident Hunter Mattocks said. There are 15 occupied homes in his community, all of which are opposed to the station site, Mattocks said.

Now, the site design and work plans are being scheduled with construction still some time away.

The area has one other station, along U.S. 60 west of King's Ranch Road. The average response time is eight to 12 minutes, far above the ideal four minutes.

Residents also oppose the new site because they said its location near a blind curve is a potential traffic hazard. They cite a prior fatal motorcycle crash nearby as an example.

Apache Junction Fire District spokesman Dave Montgomery said the residents' fears are without merit. There were three traffic crashes in the last five years, none near the community entrance, Montgomery said.

As for the price, the reason given is the same all real estate agents tout - location, location, location.

"When it comes to fire stations, the difference between half-a-mile on any regular day versus in an emergency can be a matter of life and death," Montgomery said.

The alternative flat lots proposed by the residents, some priced under $200,000, wouldn't work because of their greater distance from residences, he added.

"We could go a mile away and purchase and build a fire station, but it does the citizens no good," Montgomery said.

Residents also said that because the site is below surface level, it is an even more expensive proposition with additional leveling costs.

But Montgomery insisted there was no choice in that matter. Estimates for the site preparation cost range from $200,000 to $400,000, he said.

It isn't as if Vista del Corazon subdivision residents had a real say in the matter.

The station site is in the still unoccupied but separate Montana Dorada subdivision. With no zoning changes required as per Pinal County rules, the fire district only needed the approval of that subdivision's homeowners association - which happens to be the previous landowner.

The $1.75 million for the new station is financed by a September 2006 voter-approved $9.5 million general purpose bond issue.

Over the past five years, residents in three other neighborhoods - Superstition Foothills, Quail Canyon and another near Baseline Avenue and King's Ranch Road - had successfully thwarted similar plans. Residents' main opposition has been to potential noise pollution, bright lights and additional traffic burdens and safety concerns.

Mattocks and others doubt district officials' assurances that the station would only use emergency lights and alarms when necessary.

"That's probably a lie," said Jay Mowat, who moved into the community about four years ago. "It's simply unsafe to not have lights and sirens in this area in the dark."

They also questioned the future station's chosen location because it is barely two miles away from the existing station, just east of Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club.

But one fire industry expert said two miles is significant for reducing response times.

Gary Stewart, fire practice principal at Citygate Associates, a California-based fire protection and emergency medical services consulting firm, said travel time is a major factor when deciding on a fire station site.

"Even half-a-mile is a huge movement," Stewart said. Safe street access, typically to main roads, is also a factor, he added.

The industry standard is to have a fire station about every 1.5 miles or four minutes of driving time. A station also should be part of a system of stations 2.5 to three miles apart, Stewart said.

The new station would serve the greater Gold Canyon area's northern portion, including all of the Superstition Foothills and Mountain Brook communities.

The current station will continue to serve the King's Ranch area and the Peralta Trails area, among others.

The district gets about 8,000 service calls annually, including the three stations in Apache Junction.

Residents know they may not have any recourse now, since the district is an entity in itself, not answerable to Apache Junction, but they wonder if any feasibility studies or traffic studies have been conducted.

"Perhaps it could still be looked into," Mattocks said. "At least review what's been done - if our money was spent wisely."

Stewart said it's always a challenge to place stations in existing neighborhoods. But he added that it's hard to close them from an existing one too.

"It's a perplexing paradox," Stewart said, adding that residents, with the exception of busier urban fire station locations, once they see how fire stations blend into a community, feel unsafe if they see one move out.

That's a faraway picture in some residents' minds. "We're not against firefighters or fire stations," said resident Eileen Hall. "We're just fighting the way they're spending our money."

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