Bristol planners OK one firehouse site, reject the other

BRISTOL — The Bristol Planning Commission on Tuesday took a look at the final two proposed sites for a new firehouse and determined that one aligns with the town plan and the other does not.
Commissioners voted for the West Street site, and against the North Street site.
The group was not comparing the two sites against each other, but rather evaluating each individually according to their adherence to the Bristol Town Plan. Only the selectboard has the power to choose a site.
All eight members of the planning commission were present. They voted 5-3 to recommend the West Street site, with Katie Raycroft-Meyer, Susan Kavanagh, Kris Perle, John Elder and Chico Martin in favor, and Bill Sayre, Walter Hellier and Ken Weston opposed.
“I can’t think of a better site — it’s obvious it fits in the town plan,” Martin said.
The West Street site is located on Bristol Recreation Club property, and also encompasses the adjoining Shepard property. The Recreation Club is a private organization that is separate from the Bristol Recreation Department. The total holdings of the club at that location are 10.29 acres, though that entire space would not be used for a new firehouse.
If the site is eventually chosen, however, The Hub teen center and skate park would have to be demolished and relocated. It is unclear whether the home located on the Shepard property would be razed. According to a presentation made by the fire committee to the planning commission on Nov. 18, the West Street lot is listed at $363,400.
Weston urged his colleagues to look out for the teens in town who would be affected most if The Hub and skate park are demolished.
“Kids are sometimes disenfranchised because they don’t get to vote for their interests,” he said.
Perle also cautioned the town against building on the site of the teen center and skate park without a plan for relocating them.
“We need a comprehensive plan for relocating both of those facilities,” Perle said.
In the second vote, on the North Street property, the body voted 6-2 that building a new firehouse on that location did not align with the town plan. Weston and Perle voted in favor, while Raycroft-Meyer, Kavanagh, Elder, Martin, Hellier and Sayre voted against.
The North Street site includes the lot where the existing firehouse sits, plus the adjoining Vince and Bilson properties. The lot is 0.70 acres and is listed at $359,500. If the site is chosen by the selectboard, the homes on both properties would be razed.
Members of the Planning Commission debated the merits of building a new firehouse on the North Street site, which is zoned for High Density Residential use.
“What keeps together great little downtowns is to have people who live near the core, walk back and forth from the core to downtown,” Raycroft-Meyer said. “This transition zone is fragile.”
Raycroft added that she believed building a new firehouse on North Street would “inhibit the ease of people using downtown.”
Elder expressed his opposition to the site on the grounds of historical preservation.
“Wrecking two historical buildings and putting a new firehouse there would upset the balance of the town,” Elder said.
Kavanagh said in an interview Wednesday that she felt the fire committee had adequately prepared the planning commission to vet the two sites.
“We feel we were able to participate fully in what we were asked to do,” she said.
Kavanagh, the vice chair of the planning commission, said she was in the process of writing a letter to both the selectboard and the fire committee to report the results of Tuesday’s meeting.
Weston expressed disappointment that the Fire Facility Site Selection Committee only presented two sites to the planning commission at their Nov. 18 meeting. From an original list of 33 sites, the fire committee narrowed the sites down to six in October, and then two in November.
Fire Facility Site Selection Committee member Brett LaRose said last month that the committee was not planning on seeing a new site proposal voted on at the next town meeting in March. He said he hoped the process would be complete in time to be put in front of voters on Election Day in November 2014.

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