Janesville officials explain plan for new fire station

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, February 27, 2014

JANESVILLE—In October, Rebecca and Dave Farrell received a notice telling them they needed to add railings to their home's porch stairs to comply with city code.

About a week ago, the Farrells received another notice from the city telling them their home, new railings and all, might have to come down to make way for a new fire station.

On Wednesday, about 40 people attended an open house at Janesville Fire Station No. 1, 303 Milton Ave., to learn about plans for a new fire station the city hopes to build on the site.

One option would mean seven homes would have to be razed. The second option would down 12 homes.

The cost of the new station, with land acquisition and building demolition costs added in, would be between $9 million and $9.5 million.

Fire Chief Jim Jensen said city officials have been talking about the need for a new building on the site for years.

“We've had plans going back to 1994,” he said. 

As part of the process, the city considered nine sites, Jensen said.

In a closed session meeting in October, the council voted 6-1 in favor of the two options that would use the Milton Avenue location.

“The most important factors to us are response time,” Jensen said. “When a person is having a cardiac arrest, they are six times more likely to survive if you can get there in four minutes.”

Moving the station in any direction would change response times.

Neighbors of the fire station say losing their homes would changes their lives.

Rebecca Farrell said that of the 12 homes slated for possible removal, nine were owner-occupied. Of those nine, eight had been occupied by the same owner for more than 10 years.

Two of the homes are rentals. Another home, a “Conrad Cottage” listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is owned by the bank, Farrell said. The cottage has a severe mold problem, and it might not be able to be saved, she said.

Despite their location on a peninsula between two busy streets, the 12 homes north of the fire station are a neighborhood, Farrell said.

People know each other. The moment the Farrells' big dog, Brooklyn, is let outside, he goes next door to the home of Barbara and Shawn Sharp. The Sharps have lived in their home for 20 years.

Dave Farrell runs his snow blower up and down the sidewalk in front of several of his neighbors' homes.

The Farrells knew the elderly lady who lived in the Conrad Cottage so well they had a key to her home and helped her out when she was ill.

The Farrells and the Sharps recognize the central fire station needs upgrades, but they are frustrated by the process and aggrieved about the loss of their homes.

They describe the letter they received from the city as “vague.”

“It didn't even say where the meeting was,” Barbara Sharp said.

The letter, from Janesville Public Works Director Carl Weber, informed residents they were being informed of the open house because they “owned property in the proximity of the preferred site area.” The letter also said the meeting would provide information about the project and that area residents would “receive information about the acquisition and relocation procedures to be followed.”

“Following this open house, Judy Adler, relocation coordinator, will schedule individual meetings with all property owners and occupants to more fully explain your rights in this process and to obtain information needed for the relocation plan,” the letter stated.

Some residents said they didn't understand that this meant the loss of their homes, and that “acquisition and relocation procedures” could have referred to easements, the narrowing of terraces or changes in driveway locations.

Despite their affection for rank-and-file firefighters, neighbors struggled with the choice of location.

"You know, we live right here, and about 80 percent of the calls are ambulance and fire truck, ambulance and fire truck," Dave Farrell said. "Why do they need all that room?"

The city council will vote on the options at its meeting Monday, March 10. At least one plan commission meeting will follow, with the final council decision set for Monday, April 14.

Construction could begin as early as spring 2015.

The new station would feature eight equipment bays, administrative offices, dormitories and space for firefighters to gather and train.

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