Saugatuck Fire Station On The Move?

Word on the street is that the Saugatuck fire station may move down the street.

The Riverside Avenue firehouse — located between Bridge Square and The Whelk, which looks like it’s been there since horses pulled fire wagons — is being considered for relocation a few yards north, near the VFW.

But — contrary to the fears of some local residents — the new site is not the small Riverside Park.

It’s 427 Riverside Avenue, next door. The town owns that vacant lot.

In fact, says Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, the parcel was purchased in the 1970s with the intention of building a new fire station there. Instead, an addition was built at the current site.

Kingsbury would love the Saugatuck firehouse to remain where it is, on the river across from Phase II of the Gault redevelopment. “It’s a real cool place,” he says.

But it’s not deep enough for modern vehicles. Plus, it’s in a flood zone. During Hurricane Sandy, firefighters built a berm to protect generators and equipment. Still, the station suffered $15,000 damage.

The vacant lot at 427 Riverside Avenue.

The vacant lot at 427 Riverside Avenue.

Kingsbury says the town engineer has looked at the vacant lot at 427 Riverside. However, he notes, “we haven’t really started the process yet.”

That has not stopped area residents from creating a website: “Save Riverside Park.” The site warns of the destruction of “an oasis for Westport residents.”

Presumably that won’t happen if the firehouse is built not at the park, but next door. However, concerns about increased noise and “traffic pollution” would no doubt remain.

The website offers an alternative: Luciano Park.

I’m not so sure. That’s been an important (and green) part of Saugatuck since the turn of the century — the 20th century.

Luciano Park is home to a playground and softball field. It was also the site of the long-running Italian Festival, and a short-lived antiques market.

Luciano Park is home to a playground and softball field. It was also the site of the long-running Italian Festival, and a short-lived antiques market.

The website points to Luciano Park’s proximity to I-95 — a frequent destination for fire calls — as one more reason to put the station there. I’d argue that the added distance from Riverside Avenue — especially to the southbound entrance ramp — is negligible.

If all this sounds as if I’m pro-firehouse-at-427 Riverside: I’m not. But I would not want to see it at Luciano Park, either.

What I would like to see is a robust discussion of the future of the Saugatuck fire station. Click “Comments” to add your thoughts. Remember: please use your real, full name. And it would help to add where you live, so we can better understand where you are coming from.

28 responses to “Saugatuck Fire Station On The Move?

  1. Jamie Walsh

    I certainly understand the need for a modern and updated firehouse that can accommodate today’s apparatus, but as the Chief stated, that property was bought in the seventies. Westport has changed tremendously since then and before we go off spending a lot of money and decimating open space, has the town conducted a study of all the current firehouse locations and determined what the most beneficial locations might be given response time and type of equipment needed. If not, such a study might help to dictate the size of the structure and possible life safety and neighborhood impact. A comprehensive study of all the current locations might help us plan more efficiently for the future and would allow for the public input. It also might quell the current ” firestorm” this neighborhood is experiencing.
    For the record…I do not live in this neighborhood.

    • Bill Greene

      I live in the neighborhood. Just to set the record straight. The property that the chief said was bought in the 70’s by the town for a firehouse was actually donated to the town for a dollar. The deeds says that the property was to be used for town government purposes. There is no mention of a firehouse. i. checked the deed. I submit it has been used as an addition to Riverside Park and that is the proper use. The chief is trying to change that use to get free land for a firehouse. Is a firehouse even needed? Where is the study justifying that a firehouse is needed?

      The park (including both parcels) is the largest parcel of public land with direct water frontage on the Saugatuck. It should be protected for future generations. Furthrtmore, a study should be done to determine what improvements should be made to make this park an outstanding recreational facility. Once this river park is gone,it is gone forever.

      If the chief needs a new firehouse and can justify it, then the site selection needs to be restricted to commercially zoned sites.

  2. Jamie Walsh

    Just another observation… if the current Saugatuck firehouse is in a flood zone, wouldn’t the proposed firehouse be in a flood zone also? Another, reason that a comprehensive study is necessary.

  3. Kerry Foley

    If avoiding a flood zone is a priority, Luciano Park isn’t a viable alternative. That and the adjacent parking lot seem to flood in every major storm.

    • Kerry Foley

      I was a little slow to press “enter” this morning. Sorry, Jamie, for being redundant.

  4. Tom Feeley

    And who’s idea is this?

  5. Doug Conner

    What about the former Blu Parrot restaurant? Seems like a viable location.

  6. Matthew Mandell

    The RTM Long Range Planning Committee has been working on this issue for a while. There will be a public meeting with this committee and with fire officials next month or in September. This will give everyone the opportunity to hear what is going on and weigh in. Public is welcome and more than welcome to speak and ask questions.

    As for Luciano Park. NO!!!! This too is a park and one that will become more important as Saugatuck morphs and more residents move in. With the removal of the light pole, little fry now get to play some real softball out there.

    Maybe the town should buy the blighted property on Riverside next to the golf course and put the firehouse there. Preserves the park and added property, keeps the firehouse on Riverside and it certainly is out of the flood zone.

    There may be no easy answer here, but all this can be discussed at the LRP meeting in the coming months. FYI – I sit on that committee.

  7. Jamie Walsh

    Matt, has any study been done, preliminary or otherwise, which assesses our current needs regarding locations and apparatus requirements? If not, this seems like the logical place to start. I do like Doug Conner’s suggestion regarding the former Blue Parrot location, but again…we are not the experts and we should be relying on those who do this sort of assessment day in and day out.

  8. Eric William Buchroeder

    Wherever its gets put (and utility should govern that decision), do it the right way and make it a building that from the day its finished makes it obvious obvious that it was designed for function and to enhance the local character of the town. A firehouse can be a thing of beauty and it can be done tastefully, without sacrificing its essential utility and purpose, which is to safeguard lives and property. But let’s be honest, you have to look at it all the time and most of the time it just sits there, when its needed nobody gives a FF how it looks. Make it a building with character. The existing firehouses certainly provide a template in that regard. I grew up just down the street from the GF fire station on Center Street. As a child, I would hang out with the firemen and always had a blast with those guys but they always got the job done when the alarm was sounded. I don’t remember anyone EVER saying that the fire house on Center Street in Greens Farms detracted from the character of the classic residences that surrounded it or ever failed in its mission. I assume that continues to be the case or it would have been closed and maybe moved to the Post Road.

  9. Michael Calise

    The real question is why do we need bigger fire engines which require us to build bigger roads (radius) and bigger buildings. This is clearly the tail wagging the dog Smaller more efficient engines are the answer.

  10. Matthew Mandell

    There are a whole bunch of things being discussed right down to do we need so many fire houses to needing more or consolidating. I would assume for safety more is better, but cost is always the factor. We have outgrown the original in Saugatuck, so what do we do? The Blu Parrot would have to be bought and somehow I doubt the space is big enough. Its good this is out in the open to be discussed.

  11. John McCarthy

    Go to the state and ask for the space behind the parking lot right off Exit 17 North Bound which is currently being used for construction trucks. Build a facility there that could house our fire trucks and as well as some of the county-wide hazmat equipment which I believe is kept on the post road or at fire houses elsewhere in Fairfield county. State will get faster response times on 95 accidents and hazmat equipment will be staged in an easily accessible location. It could also be a place where state police could have a presence. Sell the current fire house to raise money to build new facility.

  12. Matthew Mandell

    The current Saugatuck Fire House as a deed restriction on it. It must be used for community service. So a fire house, but if not that maybe a teen center. But it cannot be sold to be a retail operation.

    • Loretta Hallock

      That is a very interesting point. How about a historical museum?

  13. Jamie Walsh

    Thanks Matt for the feedback. I also like John McCarthy’s thinking outside the box!

  14. As Westport residents, we all have to look out for the interests of one another. It doesn’t appear that any real consideration is being given to the residents of Saugatuck who are extremely vulnerable. Being the only true Westport neighborhood with a direct inlet/outlet to/from I95. I implore all Westport residents to come to the debate and help Saugatuck remain a viable single-family neighborhood. The alternative is a delapidated or densely populated neighborhood like many other Fairfield County towns. Such areas look and behave more like cities. Their residents contribute less in all the ways that matter.

    There are many spots closer to commerce in Saugatuck the residents in the Treadwell/Saugatuck can rally behind. It isn’t a case of ‘not in my back yard.’ Rather, it is a case of ‘not in my front yard!’

    Matt – I’m not sure who’s interests you are representing, but it isn’t the residents of Saugatuck, and therefore isn’t the isn’t the interests of Westporters. Saugatuck residents in this area work hard, are active in the community and are shocked anyone would consider this kind of move without discussing it with us. Your proposal to buy up the property near the golf course is short sighted and would further denigrate our lovely neighborhood. I suggest you get on the right track. We are prepared to fight this absurd proposal vigorously. The firehouse must be placed in a commercial area, or we’ll oppose it. There is commerce aplenty less than 500 feet from Treadwell.

  15. Matthew Mandell

    David – Maybe you should call me and talk before you claim I have interests I am representing, other than the community.

    I was just offering info and stating facts and options regarding the old fire house’s deed and other locations being discussed. My suggestion is for you to come to the RTM Long Range Planning meeting to listen, ask questions and make your position known. This issue has been around for well over a year and suddenly there has been movement with soil testing and surveying that we were unaware of. So it would be good for everyone to know why and the results of the testing. I am sure interested too.

  16. Matthew Mandell

    oh Yeah. McCarthy’s idea of between the exits on 95 is good. Has to have been discussed at some point. But John, anytime you want to go talk to the State and BS, let’s grab the Reps and Senator and see.

  17. Matt – If this Riverside firehouse has been under discussion for as long as Matt says it has, why have the 65 to 70 families around this location not been informed? Now that the secret is out, we are not going to tolerate this. With the support of most in the community, we have met and are moving forward on all fronts. There is very little trust of town government here from those of us in this community and rightfully so.

    When Bridgewater Associates moved their massive operations and technology center to Riverside Avenue, did anyone in the town government analyze the impact on the neighborhood or did they care. Now Riverside, which rarely had cars parked on the street, is lined with the cars of the Bridgewater employees. Cars were so close to entry streets and driveways that a very dangerous situation was created for all of us in the neighborhood as getting on to Riverside was a risk of life every time – cars going by at 45 mph that you can’t see. Finally we have a temporary solution of saw horses blocking the parking and we are told the street will make a long stretch of Riverside a no parking zone. This took a year to get this issue noticed but where was the planning that should not have allowed this to happen in the first place. Once burned, twice watch out. Our community is again being minimized and taken advantage of and it will not happen.

    Westport firefighters were heard in the Memorial Day Parade bragging about the new firehouse next to Riverside Park as if it was a done deal. These same fire fighters also said the firehouse would have a dock and a fireboat. Just what we need – a larger firehouse with larger trucks so there can be more firemen in the department and a much larger fire department budget. Add the firehouse activity to the Bridgewater activity and we have a very dangerous situation.

    Most fire calls are not for fires but for other incidents. We understand there is a practice by the Westport Fire Department to many times unnecessarily call in the Fairfield or Norwalk fire department to make it appear coverage from Westport was inadequate. Thus, a need for new and bigger equipment. We know of a family at Saugatuck Shores whose home burned to the ground because the small fire truck from Saugatuck was too large to get to the street. How do the larger new trucks address this situation?

    It is ironic that the stated main reason for moving the firehouse is because the basement of the existing Saugatuck firehouse was flooded. In addition to looking at soil and the flood plane on Riverside, I strongly suggest you talk to the neighbors by the park on the river side of Riverside as they had water up against their foundations in the second Sandy surge. That would equate to 11 feel of water in the new firehouse with new equipment and the fireboat would probably be resting across the street on the golf course.

    There is a huge Gault development in Saugatuck and as Matt refers to new residents from this and future Gault developments, please explain why there was no planning for a new Saugatuck firehouse as part of the Gault development. Did anyone even propose that Gault contribute to the cost of a new firehouse with land and financial support since Gault is the beneficiary of this new, huge development? Did Gault or anyone in town government even think of bringing this issue up as the present and future Gault development went through the approval process?

    Matt, I understand you are an environmentalist who cares about preserving parkland on the river. I think you need to meet with our committee and earn our trust and we can hear your support of our position. Where does the flooding for Luciano Park come from – not the river? It seems an elevated firehouse at Luciano Park would insure no flooding? Where the Riverside park land is right on the river and should be further developed as a park to be used by all Westport residents, I rarely see anyone in Luciano Park. Matt, if you need to take a park, why would you take one of the few on the river and save Luciano Park? Also, what happens to the existing firehouse? Will it become a community center with someone’s name on the door?

    Last week when we met with the fire chief, we were told the ideal model for a town is to have the firehouse, police station and a school next to each other. Let’s take a look at the grey building next to the Saugatuck Elementary School parking lot. It is not a private residence. It is owned by the town and used by the school district to house curriculum coordinators. There is a huge parking lot behind the building and behind that a significant piece of property with a maintenance shed. Curriculum coordinators can be moved and so can a maintenance shed. Has anyone even thought about this location as it is the perfect spot for a firehouse if a new one is actually needed. There could also be a driveway out the back of this fire station connecting to the King’s Highway lot as a second entrance or exit if needed. Plenty of room to house a new firehouse with the larger trucks and it is not a flood zone and next to two schools.

    The overall problem here in the town of Westport is that there is no strategic planning in this town, both in the short and long term. There is finally a Downtown Redevelopment Committee but there is nothing to address Saugatuck. There has been no analysis of varied sites for a firehouse and there has been no cost benefit analysis of varied sites or any analysis of the best way to finance this project if it is needed. We were told in our meeting with the fire chief that free park land is a driver for this Riverside location.

    Five independent real estate firms have estimated that the home values of the 65 homes in the area on that side of the river will go down by 20% to 30%. Those homes across the river will also lose significant value as the view of a large new commercial firehouse with a large and noisy fireboat is not quite what was expected when these individuals purchased their homes. Is this all in the name of fire protection and safety or is it empire building? How much does that cost the town in tax revenues if entire neighborhoods on both side of the river are devalued significantly?

    Why are soil samples and site surveys being done on the Riverside site when no other sites have been considered. Who has authorized this expenditure and from what budget does it come?

    As said before, this town needs a short and long range strategic plan that addresses these issues to benefit of all. Why has the town not hired a community planning consulting firm to put some logic and direction to what this town will look like in 5,10 or 20 years. To use a corporate and legal term, management of this firehouse project by the Town of Westport is in the best case negligent.

  18. Nick Thiemann

    Don’t even think about the school’s house next to Saugatuck School as a fire house. Parking at the school, behind the school and on Riverside Avenue is now a disaster waiting to happen. Let’s put a fire engine in the middle of this! Please!

  19. Catherine Davis

    I love hearing neighbors going to bat for our neighborhood. Now that you have the attention of the Westport powers that be, could you also figure out a way to get milk, eggs, bread, etc. available locally? Perhaps a firehouse/market….a great way for us locals to meet our firemen!

  20. John McCarthy

    RTM Long Range Planning Committee Agenda
    Date: 8/26/2013 7:30 PM
    Location: Town Hall- Room 201
    RTM Long Range Planning Committee

    Date: Monday, August 26, 2013
    Time: 7:30 p.m.
    Location Town Hall – Room 201

    Notice of Meeting and Agenda
    The RTM Long Range Planning Committee will meet on Monday, August 26,
    2013 at 7:30 pm in Room 201 of Town Hall for the following purpose:

    1. Comments and discussion by RTM members and the public on plans for
    the Saugatuck fire station.

    Dr. Jonathan Cunitz
    Chair, RTM Long Range Planning Committee
    July 11, 2013

  21. Matthew Mandell

    Steve – You speak as if I am the one heralding this project on Riverside. I am not. How and why I have been cast as this? I am not sure what I have said other than giving info. I plan on meeting with the neighbors, times are being worked out.

    AS FOR THE LRP MEETING – I have formally asked for it to be moved to another night, later in the week or the next. As scheduled this meeting takes place the night before the first day of school. This is not public friendly in my mind. People should be with their kids that night, the last night of vacation. Another week will make little difference.

    As for Luciano Park. Why destroy that park? Why destroy any park? I am not sure why one park is more important than another.

  22. Matt,

    You’re on the board of Earthplace! How can you not be out-right campaigning against this proposal. You don’t need to speak with a single resident to realize the importance Of protecting green space in Westport. This is just so simple. Any politician not outright opposing this proposal cannot call themselves and environmentalist.

    I’m fed up with representation in this town. Stand up, take a side, and be judged accordingly. I haven’t spoken to a single westporter supporting this proposal.



  23. Does anyone know when this meeting is taking place?

    Is it still Aug. 26 @ 7:30?