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Published: Tuesday, 1/12/2010

Zoning changed at site for Sylvania Township fire station

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRIT

Sylvania Township trustees removed the last hurdle to building a new firehouse on McCord Road south of Central Avenue by changing the property's zoning.

In approving the switch from commercial to a public-service designation, the trustees disregarded appeals from two nearby residents who said the McCord site would be plagued with traffic congestion that would slow response times, especially to incidents on nearby I-475/U.S. 23.

“You're going to turn around in a couple of years and say you can't get out onto McCord,” said Shawn Drouillard, who lives in the 2900 block of Wilford Drive. She predicted the township eventually will have to spend more money to correct the access problems.

But beyond the matter of the township having already bought slightly less than an acre at 2920 and 3004 North McCord for the project, the trustees sided with Fire Chief Frederick Welsh, who said that despite its shortcomings, the planned location is an improvement over the existing firehouse on Central, which carries U.S. 20 and State Rt. 120 through the township and has a median wall from the freeway to McCord.

“There are two bad options to get out of Station 2,” Chief Welsh said. “You go through the suicide cut” — a break in the street's divider through which fire trucks can reach the eastbound lanes — “or against oncoming traffic.”

And Carol Contrada, newly elected as the trustees' president, said officials looked into rebuilding and reconfiguring the existing firehouse to shift its access onto nearby Plainview Drive, which shares the traffic signal at the I-475/U.S. 23 southbound interchange ramps. But obtaining the needed land was, at the very least, going to be very expensive, if not the subject of a time-consuming legal fight, Mrs. Contrada said.

While the McCord site is less than ideal, it is “an improvement over the current site, and a compromise that I am comfortable with” — especially with the fire chief's endorsement, the trustee president said. “If Chief Welsh said this would not work we would not be here today,” Mrs. Contrada said.

The previous board of trustees on Dec. 1 voted to spend $131,000 to buy land for the firehouse from Toledo Hospital, which operates a medical complex at 2920 North McCord and will retain the portion of that property occupied by its building and parking lot. The sale closed on Dec. 30.

The rezoning, meanwhile, had been approved by the township zoning commission and the Lucas County Plan Commission before the trustees took up the matter.

Township officials said the McCord site was one of several they considered during a search that was also guided by a site-selection study prepared by the University of Toledo's geography department in 2006.

Jan Stone, who lives in the 2700 block of Wilford Drive, was not persuaded.

“The fire department does not belong west of where it is,” Ms. Stone said. “I don't care what the University of Toledo or any other study says. Drive it! The [fire] trucks won't be able to get through traffic to get to 23 and Central.”

Chief Welsh said that traffic problems could be resolved by installing a stoplight-control override that would display green lights along a fire truck or rescue squad's intended route, allowing traffic to clear intersections ahead of the emergency vehicles.

Before joining Mrs. Contrada and fellow board newcomer Kevin Haddad in approving the rezoning, trustee John Jennewine said the site-selection process was “far enough along” and further delay would only drive up the project's cost.

“There is no perfect spot for a fire station in that area,” Mr. Haddad said. “It's a tough decision. But we're looking at how we're best serving the public.”

While the location for a new Station No. 2 appears to be settled, the same can't be said about where to build a replacement for the downtown Sylvania firehouse, Station No. 1.

After approving the zone change for Station No. 2, the trustees polled themselves about candidate sites for Station No. 1, and both Mrs. Contrada and Mr. Jennewine listed a site at Centennial Road and Sylvania-Metamora Road as their top preference, while Mr. Haddad spoke in favor of building on what is now the parking lot at Sylvania's Administration Building.

None of those sites was a top choice when Sylvania City Council's safety committee conducted a similar straw poll the night before, with several committee members preferring that Station No. 1 be rebuilt on its existing site.

Several council members listed the Centennial site as a second or third choice. All agreed, though, that the township fire department's preferred location, at Parkwood Boulevard and Monroe Street, is unacceptable to the city.

Chief Welsh said the following night that if the Parkwood-Monroe site is politically unacceptable, “I can accept that, I respect it.”

The trustees, meanwhile, remain reluctant to recommend rebuilding on the existing site because of its small size and the cost of providing temporary quarters somewhere else during construction.



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