Durham Fire Department wants to build a new fire and EMS station to the tune of $8 million in South Durham by the city-county line.
Instead of renovating the existing fire station in the Parkwood subdivision, the department has staked out a new site at 6919 Herndon Road two miles away, along a rural and residential stretch. On Tuesday morning, the department got the go-ahead from the Board of Adjustment for the project.
It was a decision that neighbors in the area seem to have expected.
“They drive by here all the time. We see them several times a week,” said Enrique Galvan on Monday as he stood on his front porch, lined with pots of bright red Christ thorn bushes.
Tracey Price, who also lives on Herndon Road, echoed Galvan’s observations. “They come this way anyway,” she said.
Durham City bought the land in 2017, paying $700,000 for the 2.2-acre lot, which is assessed for $182,280. The new station is projected to cost $8.02 million. Durham County will be paying for 24.8 percent of the total cost for the EMS.
According to site plans, the new station on Herndon Road will be 14,162 square feet. It will have 11 dorms, three offices, and a fitness room.
The new station’s entrance will be directly across from Galvan’s house. It will be next door to another house, and be located behind the cul-de-sacs of two neighborhoods, on Pondfield Way and Landreth Court.
“I see the surveying people once in a while. I guess they’re going to build,” Galvan said on Monday.
Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said in an e-mail that the department will abandon the station at Parkwood, which was a volunteer unit that was absorbed into the fire department in 2018 when the city and county consolidated. Fire Chief Robert Zoldos did not respond to a request for comment.
“The current station (in Parkwood) was built as a volunteer fire station and is not configured well for the current type of fire station use it receives,” Iannuzzi said. “Additionally, because the district has grown significantly over the years, the station is no longer in a good location to serve its entire district.”
However, the existing fire station in Parkwood is across from a neighborhood shopping center straight up from N.C. 54 on the well-traveled Revere Road. Meanwhile, the site on Herndon Road is not only residential but also rural. Fire trucks will be speeding past fields of cows and rounding a traffic circle before reaching N.C. 54.
The new station at Herndon Road also will be right at the city-county line.
And when compared with other fire stations in Durham, the new station on Herndon Road will be one of the most residential – if not the most residential — in all of Durham. Most other stations are located in commercial or industrial areas, at intersections, and at least not directly facing homes.
There are also three other stations in South Durham, on Hope Valley Road, on South Miami Boulevard in a commercial area, and on Farrington Road, where it is located on a site big enough to provide natural buffers from residences.
When asked why the fire department located the new station on a site in a residential area, Iannucci replied, “The existing site on Seaton Road is not as good a location for reaching all parts of the district in a timely manner. The site on Herndon Road was the best available location to provide efficient coverage to that part of the city and county.”
The fire department also wants to build another new station at the corner of N.C. 54 and Davis Drive, slated for 2023-2024.
Board of Adjustment gives go-ahead
The Board of Adjustment questioned on Tuesday the project’s location, noise and runoff issues, and why the project still has not received approval from other Durham City and County departments – Public Works’ Engineering and Stormwater, County Sedimentation and Erosion, and the Planning Department.
The Herndon Road site is zoned residential and needed a special use permit from the board for a government facility. It also lies in the Falls of Neuse and Jordan Lake Protected Area, which means the project is limited to 24 percent of impervious surface. But the new station will have 50.2 percent impervious surface.
Cheryl Summers, who lives on nearby Grandale Trace, attended the meeting to voice her concerns. Durham City and the Fire Department had four representatives speaking for the new station.
“I’m curious as to why we would close that (Parkwood station) as opposed to renovating it, to build something new in a residential area, when we already have something existing which is close by,” she said. “We hear those trucks going by all the time.”
“Additionally, we’ve had some problems with water coming in off Herndon Road as the result of some previous construction,” Summers added. “So we have some concerns as a community, as to when construction begins on this new fire station and EMS station too, that that might exacerbate that.”
Summers also asked about the noise and lighting of the new station.
“The city has complied with the UDO requirements,” said City Attorney Don O’Toole. “I believe the only party at this hearing today that has put on expert testimony is the city, and we’ve put on four experts that testify about how the city meets those requirements.”
“Whether a neighborhood meeting might’ve been a good idea? Potentially,” he added. “But that’s not required by the UDO. … And I think you’ve heard from our civil engineer, our architect and the assistant fire chief about the level of sensitivity that the city has demonstrated towards its neighbors and that it will demonstrate once this fire and EMS station is open to the public.”
“We’re hearing from two individuals. There are other people that live in this area. It’s just two people speaking about their fears. My guess is that those fears won’t be realized. At the end of the day, this is a quasi-judicial proceeding. If the applicant puts on evidence showing that it meets the requirements, this board should grant the minor special use permit. And that’s what I expect the board to do today,” O’Toole said.
Board member Chad Meadows asked about noise concerns and comments from planning staff that have not been addressed. Board member Ian Kipp asked why there is a rush for the Board of Adjustment to approve the project when Public Works-Stormwater has not signed off.
Despite questions about the project’s suitability for the area, the Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to approve the new station.
“It will be safer. So that’s good for us, I guess,” Galvan said.