Bristol to mull options for firehouse upgrade

BRISTOL — Following Bristol voters’ rejection last month of a bond that would have taken the first step toward an upgrade to the fire department’s North Street facility, the search for an improved firehouse will continue in coming weeks.
Despite the public’s sound rejection of the proposed North Street upgrade in a 587-293 Town Meeting Day vote, town officials and members of the Fire Facility Committee say they are encouraged by the public’s overwhelming support for improving the fire department’s headquarters, after a process that included more town discussion.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll find a site,” said John “Peeker” Heffernan, selectboard chair and chief of the Bristol Fire Department.
The town will hold two meetings in the next 30 days to identify criteria in selecting potential sites, brainstorm a list of potential sites for the Fire Facility Committee to consider, and discuss the future uses of the fire department’s historic North Street building if the upgraded fire facility were to be built on a different site. Both meetings will be facilitated by Adam Lougee of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
The meetings will be held on Saturday, April 20, and Saturday, May 4, at the American Legion Hall on Airport Road, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Town officials say they are committed to having a more public process this time around, as many residents criticized what they felt was a rushed process leading up to the March 5 vote. The rejected bond would have funded the purchase of the historic Duclos House at 2 Garfield St., but town officials said that the delay in going public was due to continued negotiations with the property owners.
“It was certainly never our intention to shove anything down the throats of voters,” said Heffernan. “But it’s hard to give information to the public before we have something in place to talk about.”
The upcoming meetings are opportunities to get every option on the table in what will essentially be brainstorming sessions of potential locations. Some Bristol residents have advocated invoking eminent domain, a direction that the selectboard had resisted in past discussions on the firehouse expansion.
Town Administrator Bill Bryant told the Independent in an interview last month that he had concerns about “putting a cloud” over individual properties throughout what would be a very public discussion process, and putting property owners 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.”
“A lot of the sites people are talking about have been considered already by the town,” Heffernan added. “I think it’ll be a lot easier (for the public) to understand the decision-making process now.”

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