The Final Word: Fire station at Tempe’s Estrada Park ‘a big mistake’

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By Mckell Keeney

Is there no one at Tempe City Hall or in the Tempe community who wants Tempe to be known as a city that values and protects parkland? No one who will fight to save green space in our landlocked city, or speak up to honor the 1983 dedication of Estate La Colina Unit 3 land (Estrada Park) to be a permanent park and retention basin? I would love to hear one city council member or the mayor say, “It is really a shame Tempe is set to rezone Estrada Park on December 12, 2017 from single-family residential use to civic facility construction, and repurpose about 2 acres or 1/4 of Estrada Park to be a fire station, fenced off for safety reasons from the rest of Estrada Park. We can’t replace this green space anywhere in the city, unlike Mesa which built three amazing new parks for its citizens, besides a showplace playground, when they built the Cubs facility.”

Unfortunately, this is the gist of what we hear from city council members, and even the parks director, who you would think would defend our parks: “This is a great idea! We don’t need this two acres of green space in Tempe! In fact, this has been planned for over 20 years; we just didn’t tell people who were buying houses by the park!”

Fact: Unit 3 of Estate La Colina (aka Estrada Park) was dedicated to the City of Tempe by Continental Homes as a park and a retention basin.

To my understanding, law precedent is that this type of dedication is irrevocable. Tempe Fire Chief Greg Ruiz responded: “The City has determined that the fire station may legally be constructed on a portion of the park.”

My reaction: Just because something might be legal, doesn’t make it the right thing or best thing to do.

While we are not opposed to a fire station by our neighborhood, we are very opposed to this process of taking irreplaceable green space in our landlocked city for a fire station. My husband Dave and I respectfully object to the rezoning or Use Permit being sought at the Development Review Commission on December 12 to allow public use (civic facility) in an R1-7 Single-family residential zoning district for a 10,699 square foot fire station.

I could get hundreds of neighbors to sign an objection petition about the rezoning or use permit, but many residents feel there will be no stopping this train. Still, it is important to note the vast majority of citizens are not in support of unnecessarily losing a large chunk of green space that is several degrees cooler than the streets at the top of the retention basin.

If the reason for this park repurposing is to save money by not buying land to use for a station, is saving money more important than saving lives by locating each fire station in Tempe at the places determined to give the best response times? The fire department’s modeling showed the optimal location for best response times for the citizens of Tempe was to locate Fire Station #7 closer to Elliott Road and McClintock, and move Station 4 on Elliott Road to the west.

How much money is going to be saved by not making any *offers to buy land for Fire Station #7? I don’t think citizens have been given any estimated savings, but we have some of the projected building costs.

Our Tempe Fire Chief shared estimates for many of the costs for Fire Station #7. Building cost: $3.2 million. Surveying: $6,600. Construction cost to regrade the park and retaining walls is a preliminary number, as civil engineer has not finished final grading design. Preliminary number: approximately $35,000 for Station #7 pad grading, $130,000 for grading in Estrada Park, and $80,000 for retaining walls in Estrada Park. On-site improvements will be about 40% of the building cost since import soil will have to be brought in to construct pad for building and parking lot. On-site improvements also include paving, demolition, utilities, landscaping, etc. =approximately $640,000.

Ron Pies, former Community Services Director, wrote a letter to the City Council voicing his support to give up irreplaceable green space by building a fire station in Estrada Park.

He confirms the park and preliminary development were provided at no cost to the city of Tempe, and says our parks have been strategically located in neighborhoods throughout our community, for the benefit of nearby citizens.

He says that normally, he wouldn’t support a proposal to use part or all of a Tempe park in this fashion, and then gives these reasons he supports it:
1) Mr. Pies says that having a fire station next to a park provides security. I was not aware that firefighters provide security for a park. Their station will front McClintock Road and will be fenced off from the park on the sides and back of the station.

Plus, how much security does Estrada Park need? Some Tempe Police officers call Estrada
Park “Mayberry” because it has few problems. On November 18th, our Estate La Colina Neighborhood
Association hosted a successful music and art festival at Estrada Park that attracted over 500 people over
the course of the afternoon. No extra security was needed for that neighborhood event, so it is doubtful
that most people feel a need for more security for day-to-day playing in the park.

2) Mr. Pies says he reviewed the site plans and that the fire station will be integrated into the park, and firefighters and neighbors will interact. As it is designed, neighbors can’t easily get to the station and vice versa, so I’m not sure how that is integrated. For residents to get to the station, we’d have to go to the northwest corner of the park, and walk down the existing city sidewalk along McClintock to the station by the shopping center.

3) Mr. Pies says the station will complement the park’s use, but how in the world will it do that? We would like to make our music and art festival an annual event, but the fire station and relocation of playground will take away a good portion of open play park use, limiting how many people will be able to attend events and music concerts at Estrada Park. The high attendance for a first time event showed how many people in south Tempe will come out to music and art events in our parks. To my understanding, the park will be closed for a year to a year and a half for the regrading needed for the fire station.

I do agree with Mr. Pies’s statement that having firefighters close by increases chances of better response times to emergencies in our particular neighborhood, but I would hope that firefighters at a station even two to three miles from a call can get to the call very quickly.

*Many new restaurants and other businesses have been built/remodeled within a mile of Elliott and McClintock in the last few years. Of course it is possible for the City to buy one to 1 1/2 acres of flat, commercial property in this area for a fire station if they want, including anytime in the last 35 years. The city hired a realtor last year to see if any land was for sale in the area. Saying no suitable land for #7 was on the market at the time they hired a realtor is
quite different from making an offer to buy land for Fire Station #7 – the city did not do that, and the Fire Chief confirmed that.

I believe that in the future, this unnecessary loss of parkland will be seen by most people as a big mistake. Green space in our city is golden, and should be protected by those with oversight. Mckell Keeney is on the Estate La Colina Neighborhood Association Board and on the Tempe Leadership Board. She is a genetic genealogist, specializing in interpreting DNA test results. All views are her own.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. the safety or actual real life emergency services for our areas including north tempe is of utmost importance. Why even doubt that the city planners didn’t think though ALL of the options you state. they are seasoned professionals. we need need services now not grass, the sign has incorporated many of the things you wonder about in your post in the wrangle news, check out the open house, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and delighter.

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