Fire chief recommends rebuild for Station 20, some neighbors cry foul: Current facility serves Magnolia, other areas

Seattle Fire Department Chief Gregory Dean announced last week that he is recommending to the Seattle City Council that Fire Station 20 at 3205 13th Ave. W. be torn down and expanded at its current location.

The station serves Queen Anne, Interbay, Magnolia and parts of Ballard.

The plan involves tearing down three homes near the existing station on the west side of Queen Anne. That news was less than welcome for a large group of neighborhood residents who showed up at Coe Elementary School for what was supposed to be an open-house presentation designed to answer individual questions from the public.

But Chris Grekoff-who has lived for 30 years with her partner Garriel Keeble in one of the homes slated for demolition-suggested that it would be better to answer everyone's questions in a town-hall-style forum.

That's what happened, but few- if any -of those at the meeting appeared to like the answers they got. It was a sentiment Chief Dean acknowledged at the beginning of the meeting. "We understand there are those of you who won't be happy with the decision," he said.

One such person was Keeble, who said she had never seen a group of people from diverse backgrounds come together over an issue like they have in her neighborhood about the fire station. "Yes, we agree this is the wrong solution."

Stressing that the neighborhood residents support the fire department and its firefighters, Keeble suggested that perhaps a smaller, new station was an answer. "But let's find out what all the options are," she said.

However, all of the options had already been explored, according to Charles Heffernan from the real-estate division of the city's Fleets and Facilities Department. The original intent a year ago was to relocate the station, he said, adding, "We asked for your suggestions."

Some of those suggestions involved moving the station to Interbay, while others involved building a new station at the location of a nearby parking lot for a church at the corner of West Dravus Street and 15th Avenue West. "Several people at the meeting last year suggested keeping it at the current site," Heffernan explained.

Interbay as an alternate location is out because it's in an earthquake liquefaction zone, Dean said. However, he conceded, it is possible to build a new station that would be able to withstand a quake in that area.

But there would be a problem driving 44,000-pound fire trucks over roads that likely would buckle in an earthquake, much the way they did in the 2001 Nisqually quake, the chief said.

The Seattle Archdiocese was "not warming up to the idea" of using the church parking lot for a fire station, Heffernan said. Grekoff appeared unimpressed with the explanation.

"Why can't you threaten them with eminent domain," she said of a condemnation process that may be used to obtain the three homes near the fire station.

But Dean brought up a land-use-regulation angle. "If we took the parking away, the church wouldn't be able to operate because a certain number of spaces are required," he said.

Mary Pearson from Fleets and Facilities amplified on that comment later. "If we were to take the church parking lot, we would have to take the entire church," she said.

Neighborhood resident Ross Budden, who has mounted a petition drive against the project, objected to rebuilding the current station because, he said, the location is in an environmentally critical area.

Budden also complained that the majority of calls for service from the fire station between 1999 and 2006 were for locations off of Queen Anne Hill.

Dean, who had already acknowledged that the station serves areas outside Queen Anne, said the decision to keep the station in its present location was based on the fire department's ability to provide services as a whole. "We looked at a 4- to 6-minute response time," he added. "Fires double in size every minute they are unattended."

The chief also said the current station wouldn't be able to withstand a major earthquake. Moreover, he said, the current size is inadequate for handling the problems a modern station deals with on a regular basis.

As it does now, the station will have four firefighters, one of whom currently has to sleep in the kitchen, and it will be expanded from the current 3,000 square feet to around 8,400 square feet, according to the plan.

The garage bays will also be expanded, and there will be room for both a regular and a reserve fire engine. Also planned for the new facility is a contamination room to replace a 55-gallon drum currently in use by firefighters for that purpose, said battalion chief Molly Douce. "These guys and gals are having to make do with a very poor place," she said at the meeting.

It was recently announced that the $167 million levy voters approved in 2003 is $67 million short of the money needed. But, according to the mayor's office, the shortfall would unlikely affect the overall plan because the balance will be made up with bonds and real-estate excise taxes.

Pearson from Fleets and Facilities said the shortfall doesn't involve land acquisition so much as it does rising construction costs. "It's happening to everyone," she added.

While that may be so, the city council was none too pleased with the news of the shortfall, said Stephanie Pure, an aide to council member Peter Steinbrueck.

Most council members are concerned about the budget shortfall because it could harm the public's confidence in future levies, Pure said.[[In-content Ad]]