The land-use permit for a new fire station in Alamo was approved Monday by a county zoning administrator, who added a handful of conditions to her approval following emotional opposition from residents.
Catherine Kutsuris, director of the Department of Conservation and Development, held a continuation of the last county zoning meeting to allow more supporters and opponents to offer their views at Monday’s meeting in Martinez, which lasted almost three hours.
Debbie Wiley, a Pebble Court resident, said she had concerns about noise and lights that could hospitalize her husband, who suffers from a neurological condition that makes him sensitive to such stimuli.
“It’s not just the fire station, it’s the construction too,” she said. “We’ve been in Alamo for about 30 years and that’s always been a residential area. We moved into this neighborhood without the knowledge that a fire station would be there.”
Wiley and other opponents of the proposal were familiar faces in during which the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District bought a 1.1-acre site on the 2100 block of Stone Valley Road, drew up plans for a 9,000-square-foot facility, and sought county and community support.
Jan Conway said she is a longtime opponent of the plan after attending several meetings of the Alamo Improvement Association and the Municipal Advisory Council. She said she did not feel the fire district encouraged community input the way it should have.
The Alamo MAC at a meeting that many of the same opponents at Monday's meeting had attended to voice concerns. Council members also on the issue at a February MAC meeting.
“If the community was satisfied with the district’s plan, why would we keep coming to meetings with more questions?” said Conway, adding that the AIA voted unanimously against the plan. “This proposal will be costly and unnecessary in an area that is not growing.”
Kutsuris said she approved the plan knowing its impact would be difficult on the residents nearest to the site; she said she hoped the conditions added to her approval would assuage their worries.
“There’s nothing more personal than owning your home and having something potentially change around it,” she said.
Kutsuris said some of her conditions aim to strengthen community relations, including one that would require a 24-hour phone number so that residents could relay problems about construction and station activities to an administrator who “could take corrective action."
The fire district also would be required to prioritize the availability of parking at the station so that guests and staff do not park in residential areas. The condition, Kutsuris said, was meant to address concerns of Megan Court residents about overflow parking and traffic congestion created by the station.
“It’s important that the station does not encroach on residents with its activity,” she said. “The responsibility should be on the fire district on an ongoing basis for that.”
In addition, the district would be required to assemble a “communication plan” that routinely updated residents within 500 feet of construction after the project breaks ground.
Other conditions dealt with residents’ concerns about noise and the look of the station. Kutsuris said the district should look into a more neutral color scheme that would blend better with surrounding residences, and shorten a 34-foot communication tower on the site.
Megan Court resident David Ard spoke during the meeting as an opponent, saying the tower and overall aesthetics of the station “won’t fit into our little country neighborhood.”
Resident Dan Haller said plans for red-colored bay doors at the station were off-putting.
Other Megan Court residents said noise from the site, including backup alarms, sirens and engine testing, would infringe on their home life.
Tiffany Haller said her family has been at their Megan Court home since 2008, when her husband, Dan, and she “stumbled across our house on the Internet.”
“We moved our family 50 miles to Alamo,” Tiffany said, her voice wavering as she sobbed. “It was our home to raise our kids, a quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by families.”
After her ruling, Kutsuris acknowledged that “change is difficult,” especially for residents in the area.
“I would agree with you that unless one actually lives in the neighborhood, you cannot know exactly how the project will impact you,” she said to speakers opposing the plan. “But I hope that you believe you have been listened to.”
Kutsuris said noise from the station should be minimized as much as possible, setting a condition that restricts engine testing and similar noisy activities before 8 a.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. on weekends.
Supporters of the plan attended the zoning meeting, too, including Michael Marchi, a member of the Round Hill Police Services Advisory Committee, and MAC Vice Chairman Michael McDonald, who called the plan “a great asset for the community.”
Paul Salvoni, who lives on Valley Oaks Drive, said he supported the plan because it would create a station that could handle earthquake response.
“Can any of us even imagine what it will be like when the next one hits?” he asked. “I’m scared that what we have now would collapse and you wouldn’t be able to get firefighters out of there to help the community.”
The new station is expected, on average, to receive up to two emergency calls per day. Six employees will work at the station, according to Chief Richard Price.
Architect Bob Deiss said the project would take about 14 months, with the first two months dedicated to site demolition and grading. He said he hoped that construction would begin in early spring.
Opponents to the plan have 10 days to file an appeal.