Bristol plans public brainstorming session for ideas to fix firehouse limitations

BRISTOL — The bond that would pave the way for a major upgrade to the Bristol Fire Department’s North Street facility may have gone up in smoke on Town Meeting Day with a 587-293 defeat, but the search for an improved firehouse continues.
Despite taxpayers’ sound rejection of the proposed North Street upgrade, town officials and members of the Fire Facility Committee said that they were encouraged by the public’s overwhelming support for improving the fire department’s headquarters, albeit in a different location.
“Everyone understood the need,” said Town Administrator Bill Bryant.
Bristol citizens should keep their eyes peeled for an upcoming public forum in the next few weeks, which Bryant characterized as a “fire facility site selection public brainstorming session.”
Town officials are seeking a facilitator for that discussion, and as of press time on Wednesday, were awaiting responses from some of the individuals who had been invited to fill that role. The public meeting was tentatively slated for April 13, but Bryant said the date is subject to change based on the schedule of the facilitator.
The date and the facilitator will likely be finalized at the selectboard’s meeting on Monday, March 25, at 7 p.m. in Holley Hall. Bristol residents may check the town’s website or call the town office on Tuesday; the Independent will publish the date, time and place of the brainstorming session after they are finalized.
Bryant said in a Wednesday interview that in public hearings and on Town Meeting Day, Bristol residents had offered a range of suggested solutions. Members of the public have asked that some options that the selectboard decided against when considering the last proposal, like condemnation of property, be put on the table this time around. Bryant added that conditions might have shifted for some properties that were previously deemed unfeasible; for example, property owners that had previously not wished to sell may have reconsidered.
The upcoming meeting is an opportunity to get every option on the table. Bryant said that he had concerns about “putting a cloud” over individual properties and having property owners be put on the spot. But town officials understood that the public wanted to be involved throughout the process.
“We’re very committed to doing this,” Bryant said. “This is how the public wants it done. Despite some of the negative caveats of doing it this way, it’s how we’re going to do it.”
After the initial public meeting, the Fire Facility Committee — which the selectboard may appoint additional members to, in order to better represent the spectrum of interests surrounding the project — will go over the proposed sites and issue a report of the best several options to present to the public and the selectboard.
“That report becomes the basis of public hearings,” Bryant explained.
He added that the town welcomes input on specific proposed sites from the planning commission, which during public hearings on the proposed North Street upgrade sought an official advisory role.
“If they want to send a memo or weigh in on sites the public selected, that’s an appropriate role,” Bryant said.
Based on public input and other factors like cost, the committee’s report could either be revised further or go to the selectboard to negotiate the finances and broker a deal for a specific site. Bryant did not venture a guess on the timeframe for those steps.
“It’s democracy,” he said with a good-natured chuckle.

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