$1 million allocation for purchase of land and site preparation for new Fire Station 27 in ‘River Road area’ wins County Commission approval

Detert objects to dot marking location on county map, saying no land available there

This is a close-up of a section of the map provided to the commissioners, showing the general area staff is researching for the location of the new fire station. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Although she did not want a staff presentation, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert said on Aug. 25, she did want to voice concerns about a map showing the general location of a proposed new county fire station in the River Road area of South County.

The facility is needed so the Fire Department can expand its service in the Venice Avenue area, a county staff memo explained.

The agenda item called for adoption of a resolution to amend the county’s Fiscal Year 2021-2025 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to add Fire Station 27 as a “Land Acquisition and Site Preparation” project. The item also called for adoption of a $1-million budget resolution to facilitate the purchase, along with the work necessary to make the site ready for construction. The item was listed as “Presentation Upon Request.”

After Rich Collins, director of the county’s Emergency Services Department, stated his name for the record, as he stood at the podium in the Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota, Detert told him, “All our materials say ‘River Road area.’” Yet, she continued, the dot on the map provided in the agenda packet for the Aug. 25 meeting puts the location “right where they’ve always wanted it to be, which is right where I don’t want it to be, which is East Venice Avenue and Jackson Road.”

Detert added, “I don’t even know a piece of land available there.”

This is the full map included in the agenda packet for the Aug. 25 meeting. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Just the previous day, during the commission meeting, she continued, she had complained about Venice Avenue because of its ditches and potholes and the fact that it is just two lanes. Moreover, she said, that road is not on the county’s five-year Capital Improvement Program list for upgrades. East Venice Avenue “needs lots of improvement,” she added. “The only way I would approve a firehouse being on a two-lane road … well, I wouldn’t.”

What Detert characterized as “the better choice” would be the intersection of Center Road and River Road. She told Collins, “You could serve all the new developments on River Road,” including Stoneybrook at Venice, Gran Paradiso, and even Wellen Park, which is near North Port as well as Venice. (Wellen Park formerly was called West Villages.)

This map shows the intersection of Center Road and River Road, which is State Road 777. Image from Google Maps

Additionally, Detert pointed out, that location would be close to Interstate 75. “There’s always accidents at the North Port exit [for I-75],” she said, so the City of North Port could receive assistance from the Sarasota County Fire Department in handling them.

“I would propose that we look at Center Road,” she stressed, noting that it has four lanes and a Level of Service rating of A, compared to Venice Avenue’s F. (The Florida Department of Transportation has explained that “level of service” refers to drivers’ experience of traffic flow on a given route.)

“I welcome any rebuttal,” she told Collins.

“We’ve done extensive studies in this area,” Collins began, “and I understand the desire to find the right location.” The goal is to site the fire station at the spot from which it would have the widest area of coverage, he explained.

Then Detert asked him what corner would be available at the intersection of Venice Avenue and Jackson Road.

“We’re just in the process of looking for land in various areas,” Collins replied.

“There’s nothing on any of those four corners,” she told him, referring again to the intersection of Venice Avenue and Jackson Road.

“You’re absolutely correct,” Chair Alan Maio responded.

The dot, Collins said, “is a central point.

“But you’re open to all suggestions from landowners within the broader area?” Maio asked.

“Right,” Collins responded.

Detert asserted that the location of the dot had not changed over the past three years in materials she had seen regarding the fire station plans.

(A staff memo provided to the board in the agenda packet noted that the proposed location “was published by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) and approved by the [commission] in 2019.”)

A map shows the area of Wellen Park. Image from Google Maps

“It’s probably a poor choice on our part,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told her, referring to the dot. “It’s just the central part of that overall area,” he added, “but that is very confusing, given the past discussions.”

Then Fire Department Chief Michael Regnier stepped to the podium. “We need to have a point of reference,” Regnier explained, so staff can analyze fire crew response times. “We take into consideration through GIS all roadways, speed limits,” and other factors, he added, referring to a county software program. “But you have to have a starting point to make that happen.”

Detert reiterated her remark about no land being available at the intersection of Venice Avenue and Jackson Road.

Maio suggested that staff remove the dot from the map and then include in the narrative for the Capital Improvement Program project the fact that staff is measuring response times.

Commissioner Nancy Detert asks a question during the June 9 meeting. File image

“I have no dispute with the language,” Detert said, referring to his latter point. “The language is perfect, and I hate to think I had a half-an-hour discussion about a dot, ’cause it’s not really about the dot.”

“Look in the River Road area where the growth is,” along with “plenty of land,” she told Regnier. “There’s cows standing there,” she noted, referring to an area of the intersection of Center Road and River Road.

Maio said he expected the dot would be removed soon from the map.

“I think they get what I’m saying,” Detert replied.

Then she made a motion to approve both the adoption of the resolution to add the Fire Station 27 project to the CIP for 2021-2025 and to appropriate the $1 million for the land acquisition and site preparation. After Maio seconded it, the motion passed unanimously.

According to The Sarasota News Leader’s timekeeping, the discussion ended up lasting just shy of 15 minutes, instead of the 30 Detert had estimated.

More details about the funding

These details about the Fire Station 27 plans are included in the Capital Improvement Program project pages. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county staff memo in the Aug. 25 agenda packet explained that the purchase price for land for the new fire station would not exceed $800,000. As required with such county transactions, the memo noted, an independent appraisal of the selected site would have to support the purchase price.

The extra $200,000, the memo said, would be used for closing costs, due diligence and initial site improvements. Fire Impact Fees and EMS Impact Fees will cover that expense, according to a document in the agenda packet.

“An informational public meeting will be conducted at a later date,” the memo pointed out, after the design of the fire station has begun.

The county Capital Improvement Program project pages included with the resolution the commissioners approved on Aug. 25 say the construction cost has been estimated at $6.9 million. Staff anticipates the issuance of bonds to pay for that, the pages note, with the money to be paid back through EMS and Fire Department assessments, as well as user fees.