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Fire station's delay has a domino effect

(ran South, East, West, Seminole editions)

The location of a new fire station is up in the air after fire commissioners lost out on a deal to buy acreage on 54th Avenue N.

The change of fortune could mean the station will be built on the eastern half of Lealman Park. The county has given the Lealman Fire District acreage there for a new Station 18, but fire commissioners had said the land is inadequate for their needs. They had decided to look elsewhere.

The Fire Commission's indecision means a further delay in creating a new home for the Lealman Family Center, which is scheduled to take over the existing fire station when a new one is built.

More recently, the center had hoped to build in the park as part of a community center to better meld its children and family programs with the park atmosphere.

Fire commissioner John Frank on Monday referred to the domino effect of the latest delay. The community, he said, wants to move forward on many fronts and the fire district is holding things up.

"We're like nowhere and time is going on," Frank said. "It think it's extremely important that we move one way or another in this situation. . . . How long can this thing drag on?"

Frank added, "In the interim, everybody is suffering. . . . Nobody can move forward."

But commissioners made no decision Monday because only three of the five members were present at the workshop. Linda Campbell and chairman Mike Brophy were absent.

Lealman fire officials have looked forward to a new station for at least five years. When first proposed, the station was supposed to be located in the Lealman Park at 54th Avenue N and 37th Street. It was to be part of a larger complex with a sheriff's substation and other community-related services.

That fell apart until only the fire station itself was left as part of the plan. But it wasn't until last year that the county deeded part of the park to the district. Proposed plans were not drawn up until this spring. Those plans were larger than the land the county gave the district.

In the meantime, community activism sprang up in Lealman. Some of those folks wanted to save as much of the park as possible because it is Lealman's only green space. The county listened to them and refused to give more land to the district.

Earlier this summer, the Fire Commission unanimously voted to try finding land elsewhere. They bid on land on the north side of 54th Avenue N, between the railroad tracks and 43rd Street. But they lost out because there were many bidders and some did not have the constraints the district had, fire Chief Rick Graham said.

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