A group of residents in the Club Manor Drive and surrounding areas are attempting to stop next Monday’s vote on a resolution which would authorize the city to start construction of a new Maumelle Fire Station No. 2 on green space south of Odom Boulevard South between Club Manor Drive and Maumelle Boulevard.
In the works for more than a decade, Maumelle Mike Watson said the new station plans began in the administration of former Mayor Burch Johnson.
On Monday, Johnson, a current alderman and his colleague Alderman Preston Lewis attended a neighborhood meeting on Club Manor Drive to discuss ways of organizing a campaign to lobby against the resolution scheduled to come to a vote at the next City Council meeting on Monday.
City Clerk and Treasurer Joshua Clausen said the resolution would be on the March 17 council agenda and that as a resolution it could be voted on at that time, unlike an ordinance that requires at least three readings that normally span at least three separate council meetings.
Johnson told the group he could vote for stalling the resolution to give all interested parties an opportunity to be heard. He assured them he was in favor of a new fire station and suggested a site on the east side of Maumelle Boulevard that already has a much coveted curb cut into Maumelle Boulevard.
Unlike North Little Rock that has made several curb cuts along the Boulevard to accommodate new business locations, he said those curb cuts that require approval from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, have been harder to get for Maumelle than North Little Rock.
When he was mayor Johnson said he negotiated purchasing the plot and he said the owner wouldn’t come off a $500,000 price tag. Since the property has now been vacant for seven years since that discussion, he said the city might be able to acquire the land for a more reasonable price.
"He may even take $200,000" Johnson said.
Watson, contacted in Washington, D.C., where he and aldermen from around the country are gathered for the National Association of Cities conference, said he didn’t have his files to refer from on the trip but that the site Johnson suggested wouldn’t be within the 1.5 mile distance from some Maumelle residences.
Having a fire station within at least 1.5 miles from most residences is an important factor in the ratings used by the ISO rating organization that are very important portion in the determination of insurance rates for fire protection coverage.
In fact, Maumelle Fire Chief John Payne said the city’s current ISO rating is dependent upon having a fire engine running more than a mile and a half.
Payne said the proposed site meets that requirement.
Many of the opponents of next Monday’s resolution are pushing instead for the station to be built across the street from the proposed location. That site, west of Kroger and Club Manor Drive was the previous top site under consideration and Watson had proposed the city buying the six-acre lot.
Watson said the City Council voted against buying that land. Since the proposed site is just across the road and already city owned land, the city would save a purchase price at a different location.
The other Ward Three alderman, Preston Lewis was also in attendance at the neighborhood meeting and offered the groups tips on how they could best be served. Like Johnson he said a delay in approving the resolution was their best tactic. He also said he could support a delay but didn’t make any promises if the delay effort fails.
Pat James organized the meeting but was unable to attend since he was out of town. The host Alicia Gillen said James really wanted to be there.
When asked what was the purpose of the meeting, Gillen said "Our current objective is to get a delay on the March 17th meeting in order for the community and the aldermen to have a better understanding of the situation."
Gillen offered a copy of petitions signed by at least 32 residents entitled, "Club Manor Residents for Fire Station .… Alternate location."
The petition reads, "We the undersigned are in opposition of the proposed fire house to be located at Club Manor and Odom Boulevard. We believe this Open Space should be protected and not used for municipal buildings that will impact a highly populated residential area with increased traffic and noise."
During Monday night’s meeting the emphasis was on the expected lowering of property values by having a fire station in the neighborhood.
Watson said most prospective residents are very interested in having a fire station nearby. He said they are comforted by a close contingent of firefighters and medical staff that could meet any emergency being so close. Some also see a fire station constantly manned by professionals to be a deterrent to crime simply by having observant firemen in a neighborhood.
Residents at the meeting also complained that the city was "trying to slip this by us." But Watson noted a public hearing was scheduled on the location of the new fire station but only five people showed up.
He also said voters in 2012 approved the construction of the fire station in a bond vote.
The former home of both the Maumelle Police and Fire Departments, what is now known as Fire Station No. 2 at 100 Millwood Drive was closed on July, 22, 2010 due to the finding of dangerous mold spores but it reopened after an extensive remediation and rescheduling.
Maumelle Municipal Court is also located at 100 Millwood Circle but a plan under the newest bond issue being currently discussed would have the court and the City Council utilizing the same room for court and council meetings in a remodeled Dean Files City Hall.
At Monday night’s neighborhood meeting those in attendance were encouraged to go out and to get more signatures on the petition and to lobby aldermen out there own in Ward Three. Both Johnson and Lewis said they understood the group already had acquired three votes on the council that would support efforts to delay the vote.
"All you need is one more vote, "Lewis said."
However that would create a tie and normally a resolution wouldn’t pass. However, Watson has voted in the pass to insure a proposal passes.
Even an absent counts as a no vote officially so supporters would need five votes to defeat the plan or even to delay it.
Watson, a former longtime volunteer firefighter is the department’s biggest champion and could easily be expected to cast a deciding vote on the resolution.
During the resident’s meeting Monday night, they were told to emphasis two points in requesting a delay.
First, when we first moved here that land was an open space to be used for personal and family recreation and used as a marketing point. Green space was one of Maumelle’s highest virtues and one of the key reasons many folks used in deciding to buy in to the Maumelle experience.
"There was even a pavilion there for a long time," one attendee said.
Secondly the group was admonished to plead for a delay to allow the council to understand the facts and to make an educated decision.
Lewis reminded the group that many aldermen believe the location has undergone considerable study and the original three options on where to construct the fire station has been narrowed to the one left - the one the group of residents in attendance oppose.
Many also believe the location has already been approved already by Maumelle residents twice, first during the 2012 bond vote and again when the city adopted the strategic plans last year.
One resident pointed out that the Club Manor development was the first development in Maumelle and that unlike most other developments in the city, it contains trees, lots of trees.
"We built here for that specific [trees] reason," another longtime resident said.
After about an hour long meeting the group broke up with one specific point, "Remember we aren’t opposed to the new fire station, just the rezoning."