Mayor dismisses city council concerns over fire station

Mayor Greg Nickels last week shot down concerns from five city council members that it might be a mistake to substantially expand Fire Station 20 in its present location.

The council members-Tom Rasmussen, Richard Conlin, David Della, Jean Godden and Jan Drago-weren't convinced that an adequate case has been made for demolishing three Queen Anne homes to make room for an expanded firehouse, which serves Magnolia as well as Queen Anne.

They suggested in a May 15 letter to the fire chief and the city's Fleets and Facilities department that an alternative location could be better, or barring that, that the new station could be reduced in size so that all three homes wouldn't have to be demolished.

Nickels didn't buy the argument. The Fire Facilities and Emergency Response Levy defines what an appropriate size for a new fire station is, and one with a reduced footprint doesn't fit that definition, according to a May 25 letter from the mayor to the five council members.

"While building on a smaller site may be physically possible, it is not operationally responsible and goes against the promise made to the voters," he concluded.

"Other sites considered for a new Fire Station 20 are unworkable because they would either increase response times or are located in a liquefaction/fragmentation zone," the mayor added in the letter.

Still, Nickels acknowledged that using the parking lot of the adjacent St. Margaret's Catholic Church would address the latter two concerns. Still, there are significant factors that make this location "impracticable," according to the mayor.

Indeed, the Catholic Archdiocese in Seattle said it isn't interested in selling the property because the church serves a regional congregation of Polish parishioners, conceded Valerie Paganelli from Concerned Neighbors of Fire Station 20.

"It's not like we want to drop-kick them out of the area," she said. But St. Margaret's doesn't serve a large local group of Polish Catholics, Paganelli added.

She also said she doesn't think the mayor's letter was really backed up by facts when it comes to the dangers of liquefaction following a major earthquake. Concerned Neighbors of Fire Station 20 didn't know liquefaction was an issue at first, according to Paganelli. "But working with maps (the city) gave us, we found areas that would work on 15th (Avenue West)," she said. Officials from the fire department and Fleets and Facilities disagree.

Paganelli also points to the planned location of a monorail station on 16th Avenue West just south of Dravus as a suitable location for a new station. If the location was good enough for monorail planners, why isn't it good enough for the Fire Department, she wondered. "These are the kinds of questions that don't seem to be getting solid answers."

Besides, Paganelli added, outside of the Magnolia Bridge, Queen Anne and Magnolia roads held up pretty well following the large Nisqually earthquake in 2001.

City council president Nick Licata said he was out of town when his fellow council members sent their letter to the fire department and Fleets and Facilities. But while he said he agrees that using the church parking lot is not feasible, Licata has his own reservations about the planned fire station. "I told Tom Rasmussen I personally could support a smaller configuration on the site, (one) taking just two houses," Licata said.

Licata plans to introduce legislation about the new firehouse at the June 20 meeting of the Public Safety, Government Relations and Arts Committee, which he chairs.

"We've got to make a decision," the council president said of a step he can't put off any more. "Basically I held it up for a long time," he said of introducing the legislation.

It's unclear to Licata what the council members who signed the letter think of Nickels' response. "I don't know how the vote is going to go." However the committee vote goes, Licata said he didn't think the issue will go before the full city council until July.

In the meantime, Paganelli is marshalling her troops to attend both Licata's committee meeting and a meeting of the full council when the fire station legislation comes up for a vote.

"We are definitely accumulating a fair representation of names at this point," she said of concerned neighborhood residents.[[In-content Ad]]