The city has a contract for design of a new Crichton fire station and money to begin the work; it just doesn’t have land to put the building on, at least for a week.
The Mobile City Council voted Tuesday to move $355,000 into a capital fund account designated for the new station, which should replace both the Rehm and Ashland Place fire stations, and entered into a $145,000 contract with Watermark Design; however, the board held over for a week a $190,000 agreement with Springhill and Davenport LLC to purchase the land at the corner of Springhill and Davenport avenues.
The holdover was carried by a 5-2 vote with councilmen Joel Daves and John Williams dissenting. Councilwoman Bess Rich requested the holdover after raising concerns over the zoning of the property.
During a pre-conference meeting, Rich questioned why the city would rezone the property to commercial as part of the deal if a fire station, as part of a governing body, was exempt from zoning regulations. She argued that if the lots in question had remained commercial they would be worth less than the $190,000 price tag.
“When I add up all the pieces … I don’t understand why we’d rezone it to make it commercial when we don’t need it to be commercial,” she said.
City Attorney Ricardo Woods explained the property was rezoned as part of a lease agreement between the school board and the city. The rezoning would allow a developer to use most of the space, while the school board leased a portion of the property to the city for the fire station. The lease agreement fell through and the city now must purchase the property in order to build the station.
After the lease deal fell apart, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the city couldn’t buy the property for less than $190,000.
“We can walk away from it and build the station somewhere else,” he said.
Williams and Daves seemed satisfied with the deal and said they were both ready to vote on it Tuesday.
“I hear what it sounds like and I’ve heard from the other side,” Williams said. “We are where we are.”
Councilman Fred Richardson also brought up concerns about adding a community meeting room onto the station plans, but supported the item after a short debate with Stimpson.
Richardson noted that plans for a similar station in Theodore included a community meeting room. Despite the similarities between the two stations, Stimpson said the administration would look to downsize from that model because the extra room was barely used. Stimpson said the money for the extra room could be better spent fixing up or replacing “substandard” fire stations. Stimpson said next the administration would look to make improvements to the station near Municipal Park.
“Yes, we could put in a community room, but the focus should be on our first responders,” he said. “There’s only so much money to spend.”
Richardson argued that this was a perfect opportunity to give citizens a meeting space in the Crichton community.
“My focus is going to be for the people to have a place to meet,” Richardson said. “The money is coming from the strategic plan fund; it’s the people’s money. It’s not your money and it’s not my money.”
Richardson threatened to pull his support of the project, but Stimpson called his bluff.
“We can go to Spring Hill and build (a fire station) there,” he said. “A vote against this is a vote against public safety.”
“Not to put a meeting room in there is a vote against the people,” he said.
Director of Real Estate Asset Management Bradley Christensen estimated the room in question would cost an additional $100,000.
Williams suggested Richardson use his discretionary or capital improvement funds to pay for it. At the suggestion, Stimpson said it would be “open for discussion.”
Acting Fire Chief Billy Pappas said the new station would house a HAZ-MAT team, engines 15 and 12, truck 10, sprint 10 — a smaller vehicle that can respond to medical calls — and a paramedic unit.
Dewayne Patrick, president of the local chapter of the International Firefighters Union, said he supports plans for the new station.
“I think it’s well overdue,” he said. “There were all kinds of problems with Gus Rehm.”
As for the new station causing Ashland Place station to shut down, Patrick said the two stations are close enough it shouldn’t cause any problems.
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