Fire department proposes new station

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Mint Hill residents had a lot to say last Thursday about the fire department’s proposition to build a second fire station.  They packed the John M. McEwen Assembly Room for the Board of Commissioners meeting to learn about the new fire station proposal and to voice their opinions.

It was standing room only as Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department board of directors member, Roger Martin, and fire chief, John Phillips, presented the plan for the new station to be built at the corner of Arlington Church Road and Cabarrus Road.  The plan was presented to the board as a zoning petition.

The new station is expected to be at 14900 Cabarrus Road.  The five acres of land is currently owned by Edith Williams.  The building will be between 5-7,000 square feet, allowing for a possible expansion to 10,000 square feet.  That would make it one-third to half the size of the current building.  It will be able to hold up to four trucks.  The lot is wedge-shaped, with 920 frontage feet along Cabarrus Road and 620 feet along Arlington Church Road and driveways on both roads.

The rezoning process required a neighborhood meeting due to the building being non-residential in a residential area.  Residents within 200 feet of the proposed area were notified by mail.  Of the 12 people who received letters, three real estate agents, a Williams family member, and one resident were present, and they expressed support for the station.

The second step in the rezoning process required a sketch plan, which was submitted in March.  The town staff and Mecklenburg County reviewed the plan.

Mecklenburg County approved the septic system and the storm water design.  The utilities department may find issue with the design and suggest alternatives, as it has water and sewer extensions in mind for that area.  The Department of Transportation has no issues with the plan.

The public hearing at the Board of Commissioners meeting was the next step.

Twelve people spoke during the public hearing:

Toni Byers of Cabarrus Road said, “I have spent 40 years of my life in this one area.  This is my neighborhood…I do not want the noise of sirens coming in and out of my neighborhood twenty four seven.  I want to continue to enjoy the quiet country living that I’ve been used to for 40 years of my life…Please do not do this to our country neighborhood.”

Donald Hager of Arlington Church Road said, “I dearly love the Town of Mint Hill; dearly love the fire department.  They saved my life three times.”

Robert Miller of Arlington Church Road said, “I’m 100 percent for the fire department.  It’s badly been needed for a long time…I welcome it with open arms…It’s for my own benefit.”

Steve Gandy, pastor at Arlington Baptist Church and resident of Cabarrus Road said, “I have a long-standing relationship with volunteer firemen…I realize this is an inconvenience for some people, in fact I’m very familiar with inconveniences too.  I have to make decisions all the time that don’t please everyone.  But a lot of times we have to look at it for the greater good.”

Lisa Adams of Arlington Church Road said, “I live 300 feet from the proposed intersection and I have lived there long enough to know that is an extremely dangerous intersection the way it is currently set up…I believe that if you want to save time for response, Mint Hill can look into a dedicated 911 response system.”

Sharon Heath of Lemmond Acres Drive said, “Overall I think we have a very fine group of emergency responders, and I think they do a very good job.  My family has used them several times…I’d be really interested in seeing what portion of your call base is in our area.”

John Walton of Arlington Church Road said, “I live about a quarter of a mile north of the proposed site, and I certainly would welcome a fire station close to my house.  The big issue here is can you find a site that is not across the street from several homes?  Can you find a site where you don’t require rezoning in a residential area?”

Mark Jamison of Albemarle Road said, “I don’t hardly know of any fire station that has gone in somewhere and did not have opposition, but also when they did get in there they became part of the community.”

Gene Steele of Arlington Church Road said, “I was fortunate enough open up quite a few stations in the Charlotte area, and probably three of them were in already developed neighborhoods, and they loved it…I would welcome it in front of my house…We need to take care of our own and I think this would be a great idea.”

Michele Taylor said, “This isn’t about noise, it isn’t about statistics, it’s not about commercial property.  It’s about saving someone who could be dying.  And unless you have been there, like I have, those seconds that are precious feel like hours…Think about what’s really important.”

Ted Huntley said, “This is something that really hits home with me.  Twenty-two years ago I lost my first wife.  Seconds would go by, it seemed like hours…This is about saving lives…Lets build this thing.”

John McRorie of Arlington Church Road said, “I told them that if they couldn’t find a place they could put it in my pasture.  I took a ride in that big read buggy about two years ago…I think this is a good thing.”

Two days after the meeting a home about one mile from the proposed site was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire.  Mint Hill, Midland, Fairview, Robinson, and Idlewild Fire Departments responded to the call shortly before 9 pm and cleared the scene after 1:30 am.  Jerry Mullis and Martin said if the new station was in place, it would have made a difference in this particular fire.

The Planning Board met Monday to vote on a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners.  Board members gave comments and asked questions to Martin and town planner John Hoard.

The five-year vesting period was in question.  Ordinarily plans have two years after plan approval, but the fire department is asking for five.  Martin responded that the department may not have the funds to begin construction within the first two years, but they need to act soon to close on the property.

The Planning Board sent a positive recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, denying the waiver to remove sidewalks from the original plan.

Public comments were not allowed at the Planning Board meeting, nor will they be part of the Board of Commissioners discussion when the board votes on the matter August 16.

Some residents feel their voice was not heard.  Byers and her neighbor are gathering signatures for a petition against the station.  She did not receive a letter of notice from the fire department, even though she lives within 200 feet.

“The biggest thing that bothers me is we live in a country setting, and the fact that they can come in and rezone it and put a station across the street from a residential area,” she said.  “We love Mint Hill Fire Department.  We love Mint Hill.  It has nothing to do with not supporting the fire department at all…but I do not want this in my front yard.”

Richard Lodge of Lammond Acres left the South Park area for the tranquility of Mint Hill.

“My complaint is about the process.  The fire department did not handle the communication on this properly, said Lodge, “I heard that they had some kind of a meeting in January…The first I knew about it and my neighbors knew about it was when the zoning sign when up [at the site]…A lot of the Commissioners did not ask penetrating questions, and the chief’s presentation was abysmal.”

Photos by Amanda Waters.

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