Parks buying choice parcel

Volunteer fire department sought land for new house

`It's upsetting and shocking'


July 21, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A volunteer fire department is hot over Anne Arundel County's move to snatch up a parcel of land that the volunteers have been eyeing for a new fire station.

Last week, the Herald Harbor volunteers learned they had been outbid by the county Department of Recreation and Parks for a 12-acre parcel near Interstate 97 and Generals Highway. The volunteers, who work out of the Crownsville fire station two miles away, want the new station for improved access to service areas.

"In my wildest dreams, I never imagined this would happen," volunteer Chief Raymond Gies said about the sale. "It's upsetting and shocking."

John Keene, chief of planning and construction for the county Recreation and Parks Department, said he checked with the county Fire Department about the land before he began negotiating last fall with its owners, the Carr family.

"They said they were not planning to put a station there," he said. "It seems there's some difference of opinion between the county and the volunteers regarding where that station should be."

Although a previous study identified the Carr property as a good location for a new station for the Crownsville area, county fire officials said they were awaiting the results of a new study addressing fire station placement in the county. That report was due this month.

The county has appropriated $1.3 million this year for the land, and will likely settle with the Carrs in October, Keene said.

Although the volunteer fire department had not raised money to buy the land or construct a station, Dustun Rosdail, vice president of the department, said he was confident the group would have been able to secure funding.

Both departments wanted the land for the same reason: its central location.

Crownsville's current fire station is at the end of a winding, two-lane road with a 30-mph speed limit. Volunteers there say it is difficult to respond quickly to many of its fast-growing service areas, namely Arden, Sherwood Forest and the Downs.

"We wanted to be right up there at the top of the hill," Rosdail said. "It is absurd to say we would not better serve the majority of the residents here if we were up there."

Rosdail and Gies fear the small Herald Harbor department will wither away if it doesn't relocate.

"I'm afraid the county [Fire Department] is going to squeeze us out of service," said Gies, whose grandfather and father served in the 77-year-old volunteer fire department.

Herald Harbor, called Station 6, responds to fewer than 1,400 calls a year, Gies said. That's about half of what most other county stations handle. Volunteers share the Crownsville fire station with two paid county firefighters. Gies said a more visible and central location would help attract volunteers.

Before making relocation recommendations, county fire officials want to review the results of the study on county fire stations, said Division Chief John Scholz. "We clearly told Herald Harbor that we would not draw any conclusions until the report is in," he said.

The Herald Harbor volunteers would need the county's approval before moving to a new fire station, Scholz said.

The volunteers said the county hasn't given them the green light, nor has it said they couldn't move.

Based on the earlier study, the volunteer department has been looking to buy the site for the past six years, Rosdail said.

"The subject has always been exactly the same, and the proposed location has always been exactly the same," Rosdail said.

But Keene said the Recreation and Parks Department also has been pursuing the land for a long time.

About 10 years ago, the department earmarked funding for a 25-acre expansion of the Arden at the Severn Park, Keene said.

When the discovery of a bog nearby scuttled that deal, Keene said, the department began looking at other areas.

"There are not a lot of undeveloped properties with topography suitable for parks," Keene said. And the 12 acres at Interstate 97 and Generals Highway topped that short list.

With the volunteer department's first choice now slated for ball parks and swing sets, it is looking at other properties in the area.

"We're not just being bullheaded and trying to force our way up there," Rosdail said. "But we're not giving up."

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