The months-long debate over plans to move a fire station behind the Blackstone Trails subdivision in Normal came to an end Tuesday night.
Normal Town Council members approved two measures enabling the town to buy nearly 2 acres of land from the subdivision’s developer, with plans to build a fire station there. The proposed station would replace Fire Station 2 on College Avenue west of Veterans Parkway.
The site lies on the subdivision’s southwest corner, bordered by Hershey and Shepard roads, and backs up to several homes.
Blackstone Trails residents attended numerous town council and planning commission meetings to oppose the plan, voicing concerns the station would be a disturbance, and may even cause property values to drop.
Three of them spoke Tuesday night with a final plea for the council to explore other options, including Laurie Wiechert.
“I don’t see this as a case of ‘not in my backyard,’” she said. “I see it as a case of, ‘why in anyone’s backyard when it doesn’t need to be there.’”
Wiechert and others pointed to the three other corners at the Hershey and Shepard intersection as viable sites for the station.
“Those corners do not have any direct residential neighbors,” she said. “It’s a simple question I don’t feel has been satisfactorily addressed.”
Town staff said in a council memo the other three corner lots at the intersection would cost the town more to buy, connect to utilities and prepare for construction.
City Manager Pam Reece confirmed that while the town has taken a high-level look at potential costs associated with other sites, it has not approached the owner about prices. That would require a closed session discussion to decide how much the town would be willing to pay, she said.
Council member Kathleen Lorenz motioned to postpone the council vote until after the town had explored the cost to purchase land on another corner. Council member Scott Preston supported the idea.
“At the very least we owe it to the residents of Blackstone Trails to engage in at least a conversation that, to my knowledge, has not specifically taken place as we’ve been going through this process the last couple months,” he said.
With support from just Lorenz and Preston, the motion failed.
For council member Jeff Fritzen, the debate came down to what he sees as a responsibility to represent an entire community, not just individuals.
“My role is to bring (concerns) to the table, to the staff’s attention to see what we can do,” he said. “My role isn’t necessarily to give them what they asked for, because what they asked for may not be in the best interests of the community.”
Fritzen and others stressed the need to reduce emergency response times to newer developments.
“Ever since residential (development) jumped Veterans Parkway in a significant manner, providing fire protection has been a point of discussion,” he said.
Reece said the Normal Fire Department worked extensively using county GIS information to identify 1438 Hershey Road as the ideal site to improve response times in the area.
“If the residents could specifically identify what about a fire station is specifically unacceptable ... those sorts of things we can certainly work to address,” she said. “If it’s just, ‘It needs to be across the street,’ that’s a little more difficult to figure out how that needs to be addressed. There’s no middle ground there.”
Town Planner Mercy Davison tried to reassure Blackstone Trails residents, referring to letters from residents near other Normal fire stations saying noise has not been an issue for them.
She also noted local data shows homes near fire stations fare the same as if not better than homes elsewhere in the community when it comes to property values after the stations are built.
Fire Chief Mick Humer agreed in November to limit the use of sirens and lights during nighttime hours.
Weichert said she wants to stay involved as plans for the station solidify. She’s disappointed but not ready to give up on making her voice heard.
“It didn’t go the way I was hoping, but I believe we have to always try,” she said.
Fritzen joined GLT's Sound Ideas on Wednesday to discuss the issue:
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