Janesville fire station decision leaves questions

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

JANESVILLE--The Janesville City Council said yes to two possible options for a new central fire station Monday but reserved its final decision for its meeting April 14.

After lengthy discussion in front of a packed but well-behaved council chambers, the council voted 5-2 to send Option 1 and Option 2—the only two plans under consideration—to the city Plan Commission.

The commission will meet in early April and will hold a public hearing, but no date has been set, council President Kathy Voskuil said.

The motion included instruction to city staff to be “sensitive and minimize property disruption in that process.”

Whether that sensitivity could result in fewer homes being razed was not spelled out.

A major concern of council members was the disruption to homeowners who would be forced to move as their homes were demolished for the new station.

Option 1 would include the footprint of the current central fire station and seven existing houses. Option 2 would require the removal of 12 houses.

Some residents of the area between Milton and Prospect avenues continued their protests in comments to the council Monday.

Shawn Sharp, 333 Milton Ave., apologized for being emotional about losing his house. He said he had toured the old station.

“I understand they need a new fire station,” Sharp said. “… That place is horrible.”

Another homeowner castigated the council for deciding on a site in closed session last November.

Council member Jim Farrell said he regretted that decision and noted the acquisition of houses at that time was put at $450,000. Now it's upwards of $1.9 million, Farrell said.

Fire Chief Jim Jensen said acquisition costs were put together too quickly, and that a couple sites were going to be more costly than originally thought.

In a presentation to the council, Public Works Director Carl Weber said some had gotten the inaccurate information that the new station would be a one-story building. The design actually calls for dormitories and related functions to be on a second story on part of the building.

Jensen told the council that any of the nine sites that were considered would involve taking people's houses, and he defended the fact that response times were at the top of considerations.

“People call us 8,000 times a year. They don't care how the system works. They just want us to show up,” Jensen said.

Council member Sam Liebert said he favored moving ahead with a new station and razing houses, even though some residents would suffer.

The deciding factor would be response times in the 50 to 60 years that the new station would exist, Liebert said.

“If you decide not to vote for me after tonight, I understand,” Liebert added. “… But it's part of what we do as a civilized society. It's making a sacrifice for the greater good.”

Any homeowners who lose their properties to eminent domain would get relocation costs and a sales price determined with appraisals, officials said.

Staff had asked for a vote that also would approve a project budget and allow staff to go ahead with final design. The council did neither.

Voskuil told those in the crowd after the vote they could comment at the plan commission meeting and at the council meeting April 14, apparently before the council makes a final decision.

Voting against the motion were Matt Kealy, who has called for renovation of the existing central fire station, and Douglas Marklein, who wanted staff and designers to find ways to whittle the project from either $9.24 million or $9.5 million down to around $8 million.


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