WESTPORT, Conn. – Dozens of Westport residents gathered in the Town Hall auditorium Wednesday night to express concern over the fact that a piece of town-owned open space is being looked at as a possible site for a new Saugatuck firehouse.
The property at 427 Riverside Ave., adjacent to Riverside Park, is one of several sites the town is exploring as a possible location for a new firehouse, Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury said during the Long Range Planning Committee meeting. Although a formal proposal hasn’t even been made, many residents said they don’t believe the property should be up for consideration.
“If you have a piece of property designated as open space, how can it even be considered for a municipal project?” asked committee member Carla Rea.
Rea, who was chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission back in the 1990s when the land was purchased by the town, said one of the main objectives of purchasing that property was to have open space. As such, she said she would like to see the property preserved.
Long Range Planning Committee Chairman Jonathan Cunitz said that the town is, at this point, only gathering information. It has yet to be determined whether the property at 427 Riverside Ave. would even be suitable for a firehouse, he said.
Built in the 1920s, the current Saugatuck firehouse is also located on Riverside Avenue—between Bridge Square and The Whelk restaurant. Aside from being outdated, Kingsbury said the biggest problem with the firehouse is that it’s located in a flood zone. That’s why the department is looking into building a new station, he said.
“What we found out with [Hurricane] Irene and more recently and severely with Sandy is we just about had to abandon that fire station because of flooding,” Kingsbury said. “We had about $20,000 worth of damage from Sandy.”
However, it was pointed out during the meeting that the property at 427 Riverside Ave. is also in a flood zone.
In addition to 427 Riverside Ave., Kingsbury said the town has looked at six or seven other sites, including around Exit 17 and the Westport train station.
Board of Finance Vice Chairman Helen Garten, the Democratic candidate for first selectman in the upcoming November election, recommended taking 427 Riverside Ave. off the table. She was also among several residents to recommend the property be incorporated with the rest of Riverside Park.
“We don’t have much money in the future to buy open space, so why in the world would we give up this precious piece of property that we’d never be able to buy again, anywhere?” Garten said.