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Largo kills deal for firehouse on Indian Rocks Road, will consider options

LARGO — Bob Franck will not have to live across the street from a new fire station, as previously planned. That's good news for Franck, who feared that the blaring alarms of fire trucks would shatter the ambience of the quiet waterfront neighborhood off Indian Rocks Road where he chose to spend retirement.

Franck was one of several residents near the proposed site of a new station for Largo Fire Rescue who thought the land the city had picked — 1.5 acres just north of Largo Medical Center — was not the right spot for a new station.

Franck and company can rest easy, though, since the city has concluded that a number of concerns, primarily the land's designation as a coastal high hazard area, make it a risky choice for a new fire station. On Tuesday, the City Commission canceled the $495,000 deal approved in December to buy the vacant land from Hospital Corp. of America.

"I'm pleased it's not going to be there," said Franck, 67, a retired teacher. "I was concerned about the amount of traffic. At certain times of day there is a lot of traffic, and adding emergency vehicles to the mix wasn't a good idea, I thought."

Largo officials didn't have a problem with the traffic along curvy Indian Rocks Road, but the land's designation as flood prone ultimately scuttled the deal.

Assistant City Manager Mike Staffopoulos explained that local and federal regulations regarding the coastal high hazard area proved more burdensome than the city's staff had anticipated.

Largo codes prohibit building a fire station on low-lying land, a problem the staff thought could be fixed by simply adding earth to the site. The land is sloped east to west; the eastern part of the parcel is above the flood-prone designation, while the western part is not.

But city codes also require that when you add soil to land in a coastal high hazard area that you take the same amount of soil out of land elsewhere in the same area to mitigate the impact to stormwater runoff patterns.

Architects and environmental consultants hired by the city (and paid about $35,000) determined this month that the proposed way to bring the land above the flood-prone designation was risky at best. And because the Federal Emergency Management Agency wouldn't officially remove the coastal high hazard area designation until inspecting the site after construction, there was always the chance that Largo would build a $4.3 million station on land that city rules bar from hosting fire stations.

"We could have spent millions of dollars constructing a building that is no longer compliant with our codes," Staffopoulos said.

The new station is slated to replace Station 43 on Indian Rocks Road in Belleair Bluffs and Station 39 in the Ridgecrest area. The city staff had considered several other sites in the area, but said the land owned by Hospital Corp. was the only site that allowed the fire department to meet requirements for response times in emergencies.

Staffers will start over again, Staffopoulos said, and present alternatives to the City Commission in August. The alternatives could include building two new stations.

Mayor Pat Gerard told Staffopoulos at Tuesday's commission meeting that she saw a piece of land in the same area that just went up for sale.

"We'll go out and take a look," Staffopoulos told her.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo kills deal for firehouse on Indian Rocks Road, will consider options 06/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 25, 2011 4:31am]
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