Mass. residents outraged at firehouse 'monstrosity'
Agreed the town needs a new fire station, but those who rallied against the proposal said they didn't feel the new station should be placed in a residential neighborhood
By Marie Donovan
CHELMSFORD, Mass. — Residents of the Billerica Road neighborhood where town officials have proposed putting a new center fire station turned out in droves Tuesday to protest.
"I live next door to this monstrosity. How are you going to stop the sounds from interrupting our lives? There are going to be nights I can't sleep," said Kevin Ross, who also protested the proposed lighting for the station.
Ross was one of several residents and Precinct 1 Town Meeting representatives who spoke against the proposed station at a public-information session on the issue hosted by Town Manager Paul Cohen and Permanent Building Committee Chairman Pat Maloney at the Senior Center.
The 19,442-square-foot, $7.8 million proposal passed, 2,468 to 2,195, in a nonbinding referendum on the issue April 4. It would be built without the need for a Proposition 2 1/2 override, but a two-thirds majority vote at April 30 Town Meeting is still required for the project to go forward.
"We've talked about not using blinking lights and about using solid lights instead," to be less intrusive to neighbors, Maloney said yesterday.
That wasn't good enough for some of the nearly 100 in the audience, a majority of whom applauded residents who spoke out against the proposed station.
"We've lived at 55 Billerica Road for 34 years," Joanne Besonen said.
When Town Hall was built there shortly after she and her husband, David, moved to the neighborhood, "We said, 'no big deal', but you guys leave at 8, 9, 10 at night. You come outdoors still talking and your voices float across the parking lot. You can mitigate till the cows come home; the lights, the trucks roaring -- you're only going to add to the problems we already have," Besonen said.
She said a local real-estate agent has told her she and her neighbors should expect a decrease of 10 percent to 15 percent in their property values, as well.
Bob Joyce, a Precinct 1 Town Meeting representative, urged town officials to bring another proposal to build a station at Chelmsford and Wilson streets, where two previous more expensive proposals -- including a $9.1 million bid that would have been financed by a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion, failed.
But Maloney said the significant cost savings for the new proposal are a result of being able to use 3,415 square feet of pre-existing space at the Town Offices -- an additional 16,007-square-foot facility with five bays would be added on by a small connector -- and that the cost of the last bid was too much for voters.
"If we go back to Chelmsford and Wilson streets, we're going to be going back to a $9 million plan," he said.
Nearly all who spoke yesterday agreed the town needs a new fire station, but those who rallied against the proposal said they didn't feel the new station should be placed in a residential neighborhood, in particular theirs.
Cohen noted that the other fire stations in town are all in residential neighborhoods and they haven't had many complaints from neighbors.
"Every other fire station in town abuts a residential property. No site is perfect. If there had been a perfect site at a perfect cost, we would've done this years ago," he said.
Another Precinct 1 Town Meeting representative, Jim Pinder, said town officials did not give residents enough time to consider the proposal before the vote earlier this month.
"Why did we not have this meeting before the election? It's too early to be putting this through to a vote," Pinder said, noting that even without the station, afternoon rush-hour traffic is often backed up to the Harvard Vanguard complex at the other end of the road.
Bill Griffin, a Precinct 9 representative, was in the minority of those in attendance to speak in favor of the project. While admitting that he is not a neighbor of the proposed station and that his wife works for the Fire Department, Griffin said that in the interest of public safety, the town needs to come together to ensure that the proposed location, which town officials have deemed the best option under the circumstances, goes forward.
"Adequate fire protection and EMS services are the foundations of what makes a good town and for too long that's been ignored," he said.
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