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Northwest Boise neighbors question firehouse plan

This story was originally published Jan. 26, 2010.

In quiet Northwest Boise, where it's not unusual to see horses grazing in wide-open fields, growth has outpaced planning over the past 20 years, and hundreds of people now live more than four minutes away from the nearest fire station.

The gap in fire protection is leading the Boise Fire Department to request permission to buy about an acre at 5715 N. Pierce Park Lane as the site for a new fire station within the next two to five years.

But the plan is sparking mixed reactions in the neighborhood.

"The two hardest things to do as a fire chief are open a fire station and close a fire station," said Fire Chief Dennis Doan. "A fire station can't fight a fire. You need a web of stations."

The nearest neighbors are upset by the proposal. They say the two-lane road is already full of traffic and that a nearby elementary school makes this road a poor choice for a fire station.

"Lights from the fire engines will shine directly on (our) home as they leave their driveway," said Mike and Mel Koob, who live across the street from the site, in a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

But Collister Neighborhood Association President Julie Klocke said it was "eye-opening" for her to find out how many nearby residents live outside the desired response time.

"Our elementary school, Cynthia Mann, is not in the (current) 4-minute response time," she said.

Public testimony on the Fire Department's conditional-use permit will be taken at a Feb. 1 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

The closest neighbors

The lack of continuous sidewalks on Pierce Park Lane already makes it dangerous for kids to walk to Pierce Park Elementary School, said Alice and Walter Culver, who live down the street, and Kathy Miller, who lives next door, in two versions of the same letter.

They said students "would not be subjected to fast traffic and emergency situations" if the Fire Department built the station on Gary Lane instead, where Riverglen Junior High sits well back from the road.

Among the Koobs' concerns is that traffic counts for Pierce Park Lane were recorded during the summer when school was out - so they don't accurately reflect traffic during the weekday school hours, they said.

"Pierce Park Lane is heavily occupied with parked cars during school functions, making the already narrow street, with no paved parking or sidewalks, even more dangerous," they said.

Jim Glancy, who lives "up the street from this project" said in public testimony at a Jan. 11 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that the design of the fire station should be changed to be "a little more neighborhood-friendly. The landscaping of the project I don't believe does adequate screening."

Choosing the site

The Fire Department looked at more than 10 sites in the neighborhood before settling on Pierce Park Lane for Station No. 13, Doan said.

Under the previous fire administration, the master plan called for fire stations to be built on Hill Road and Gary Lane, and the city purchased the land for both.

But Doan said he eliminated the possibility of opening a fire station on Hill Road in 2008 and returned the $1.6 million budgeted for it to the city. The site, at Hill and Shirley Avenue, was on a sweeping curve with a poor line of sight - a dangerous place to pull out from.

"It was too close to Station 9 on State Street," Doan said. "(A station) needs to be on a main artery to get going."

That was one major selling point for Pierce Park Lane, he said.

The tangle of streets that make up the Collister neighborhood leaves just two other arteries: Collister Drive and Gary Lane.

"A station on Gary would leave too big a gap," Doan said.

Even without the Gary Lane station, residents between Gary and Pierce Park lanes will be covered, Doan said. He added that the city could now sell the Gary Lane and Hill Road parcels.

If the area farther west of Gary Lane is annexed into the city, the Boise Fire Department will work with the Eagle Fire Department to cover it, Doan said.

The Pierce Park Lane site will cost about $155,500, but negotiations are still going on, Doan said.

The station - both construction and personnel - is not in the city's 2010 or 2011 budget, but Doan hopes that it will be in the 2012 budget.

Stations coexist with schools

The Ada County Highway District already is looking to either install sidewalks or an asphalt path on each side of Pierce Park Lane in the next couple of years, said project manager Craig Herndon.

"Sidewalks would require a new storm drain system, which would significantly increase cost of the project," he said.

The money would come from funds designated for Safe Routes to School, a citywide program paid for with vehicle registration fees that aims to get more kids to walk or bike to school.

Many fire stations already exist near schools, Doan said. And fire trucks already drive down Pierce Park.

"We already respond to emergencies in the area," he said. "We follow all rules in school zones. Even if we're on a call, we drop to 20 mph."

The Boise School District sent a letter to planning and zoning commissioners supporting the proposed station.

Noise and light nuisance can be kept to a minimum, Doan said. Fire Department policy allows drivers to choose to use lights and/or sirens. "If they pull out of a station at 3 a.m. and don't see anyone, (they don't need to use sirens)," he said.

Fire stations to come

South Cole Road Station No. 17 in Ada County will open in the next few months. It was paid for by the Whitney Fire District, which will also pay to staff it.

"If we annex that area, we will pay for (the fire station) two years later," Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said.

The city pays the original cost to build the station no matter how many years later the land is annexed into the city, he said.

"Fire districts can move faster than we can. A fire district has one thing to look at: They can save their money and build. The city has many services," Doan said.

Station No. 15 in Harris Ranch will be the next one built, Doan said.

The land in a commercial area was donated by the Harris family. The station is already budgeted and also would serve residents in the Warm Springs Mesa, Doan said.

"The timing is up in the air because development has slowed," he said.

Station No. 13 on Pierce Park Lane would be some time after that.