By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
An Asbury Park Planning Board alternate is urging the City Council to look elsewhere for a location for the oft-delayed and much anticipated Asbury Park firehouse after raising concerns both at the board and council meetings that using the Memorial Drive site would reduce needed parking spaces at the transportation center.
Alternate Daniel Sciannameo told those assembled at the June 6 Planning Board meeting that he respected the needs of the firefighters to move out of the deteriorating 122-year-old building and that in 2017 firefighter/paramedics saved his life.
But using that site – which city and firefighting officials took years to settle upon – would impact the adjacent rail center.
“Once those parking spaces go away, they are never coming back,” said Sciannameo at both the board referral meeting and at a subsequent council meeting.
If the council goes forward at this site, rail users would have fewer parking spaces than any nearby town with rail north or south, he said.
“I know, I counted them,” he said.
Mayor John B. Moor, who also is Planning Board member, said he did not respond to Sciannameo’s parking concerns at the board meeting because they were not relevant to that proposal but as to the reduction of usable parking spaces, “we’re on it,’ he said.
Sciannameo, who at the council mreting said he was speaking as a private citizen, urged council members to acquire other parcels nearby upon which to situate the new firehouse but Moor and others said those two parcels each had a value of more than $20 million because they were already approved for nearly 100 housing units.
Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn noted that the city has been cited by OSHA about existing conditions at the current firehouse. The abbreviation stands for the state Occupational Safety and Health agency. Those violations persist.
Further, she noted, during the Covid pandemic, there was insufficient room for the firefighters to remain socially distant within the existing firehouse. Firefighters were moved instead to the third floor of the public works department.
According to Fire Chief Kevin Keddy, who first joined the department in 1991, a new firehouse was promised even back then. Firefighters first moved into what was then a state-of-the-art facility complete with stables for the horses on July 1, 1900. Without electricity at first, it was added and a short in the fuse box ignited one day in the 1960s, resulted in a major fire which destroyed the structure’s roof.
“The repairs were not done up to code,” said Keddy who speculated that that was the beginning of the end for the current building.
In 2006, the state Department of Labor ordered the firefighters to vacate the building until its structural integrity could be assured. Firefighters have explained that the building now is filled with mold and suffers from rodent infestation. Overnight shifts are a problem owing to a lack of privacy and the availability of limited bathroom facilities which are necessary when firefighters return from fire scenes.
“We looked at various sites…but the selection was low-hanging fruit,” explained Keddy noting to make the new firehouse affordable, the city had to choose municipally owned land,. “This time we are looking at a firehouse that will serve Asbury Park today and into the future.”
The new proposed site is on Memorial Drive between Springwood and Bangs avenues that currently is used to house vehicles for the city Department of Public Works. A small structure used by the railway station will be built around. The fire station will have an auxiliary parking lot with separate entry and exits. Firefighters will have the ability to to interrupt traffic signals at Springwood and Bangs so emergency vehicles may take priority. An undefined cross easement to the neighboring strip center will be preserved, along with a secondary driveway.
The new facility will include an emergency management command center, a meeting room, a museum area and flex space for training, rentals and special events. The city also is considering installation of rooftop solar panels.
“I was alarmed at the site selection,” Sciannameo said…”I think the site selection is wrong.”
“I understand we want to get away cheap because we own it,” he said.
But if the project is to go ahead on Memorial Drive, the railway station parking needs to be preserved, he said.
“We looked at many sites,” said Moor indicating the location is settled “We are not a city flush with money.”
An Asbury Avenue site that was appraised at $1 million ultimately was sold for $2 million, said Moor, noting acquiring additional property would not be fiscally responsible.
“Parking is on our minds,” Moor said.