New fire station site draws neighbors' complaints in Largo

LARGO —Bob Franck and his wife settled into a waterfront home off Indian Rocks Road two years ago looking forward to a peaceful spot to spend their retirement.

Now, they're worried that in a couple of years they'll be hearing sirens "all hours of the night."

They're not alone.

Many of their neighbors are not fond of the city's plan to build a new fire station on Indian Rocks Road, north of Largo Medical Center. More than 20 of them, including Franck, showed up at a community input meeting last month.

The new fire station, which will be called Station 39, will replace Station 43 on Indian Rocks Road in Belleair Bluffs and the current Station 39 in the Ridgecrest area.

Neighbor Stephen Woodward, 40, who lives across the street from the proposed station, said it may be good for the community, but not "for house values or sleep at night." He plans to move because of the station and hopes to sell his home before the station is built.

Fire Chief Mike Wallace said his crews will be respectful of the community. If there is traffic, the engines' sirens will be sounded. But if not, he said, the sirens won't be triggered until the engines encounter traffic.

Noise is a common worry but not the only one. Residents say they're also concerned about traffic and safety on Indian Rocks Road, a winding two-lane road with no sidewalks and few safe areas to pull over.

"The way the road's laid out I think it's fairly dangerous," said Franck, 66.

Indian Rocks Road is commonly traveled by emergency vehicles already, Wallace said.

Last year, there were more than 1,200 calls that required emergency vehicles to drive the road, he said. Oak Manor Senior Community accounted for 450 of those calls. And it would take roughly a minute to get to Oak Manor from the proposed site, he said.

The new facility will let the city consolidate services between the current Station 39 and Station 43 while still providing fire service to Belleair and Belleair Bluffs to the north and the Ridgecrest community, south and to the east, Wallace said.

"We will be better able to serve the high demand areas and our response times will still remain within acceptable limits for the areas surrounding the (current) fire stations," Wallace said.

At least five other sites were explored, but the site off Indian Rocks Road was the only one that let the department meet contractual response time requirements, including those for Belleair and Belleair Bluffs.

In December, the City Commission okayed the purchase of the 1.5 acre site for $495,000. But Largo hasn't closed on the property, owned by Hospital Corp. of America.

The contract gave the city several months to make sure it doesn't have major environmental problems and is suitable.

Not everyone who lives nearby is worked up about the new station. Robert Ross, who lives north of the site on Adrian Avenue, admitted that it would be a hassle to hear sirens going off at 3 in the morning, but Ross, 57, said, "If my house was burning, I'd be glad to have it over there."

George Sorelle, who lives near Franck, vowed to fight the project.

"Whoever votes for it, we'll see what we can do to get them not elected next time," said Sorelle, 59.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

fast facts

New Fire Station 39

Land size: 1.5 acres

Property cost: $495,000

Construction costs: no more than $4.3 million.

New fire station site draws neighbors' complaints in Largo 03/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 4:50pm]

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