Vote split on Fire Station 20 in city council committee

The Public Safety, Governmental Relations and Arts Committee voted 4 to 4 last week over separate motions to condemn each of three homes on 13th Avenue West north of West Dravus Street to make room for an expanded Fire Station 20.

All nine council members were on hand for much of the meeting, but Tom Rasmussen had to leave before the vote, and it was unclear from his comments which way the former Queen Anne resident was leaning. Rasmussen's absence for the committee vote means the full city council will have to make the call at its July 31 meeting.

But there was a clear division among the other eight members over the complex issue, something Fire Chief Gregory Dean acknowledged at the meeting. "One of the things we know is, there's no perfect location for a fire station," he said.

Indeed, Concerned Neighbors of Fire Station 20 have said they think just about anywhere else would be preferable to the current location. Dean and other city officials have said that the current location is the best one for an expanded fire station - an opinion shared at the committee meeting by Sarah Gist, who owns one of the homes next to the station.

"We feel experts chose the site," she said of herself and her husband. "I gotta go with them; they know what they're doing."

Gist added that she thought that the Fire Department and Fleets and Facilities had done a good job on due diligence over the site selection.

Valerie Paganelli from the Concerned Neighbors group said the Gists were part of the organization but have since asked that their names be removed from the membership list.

"They were already in the mood for selling," Paganelli said. The couple and the owners of the other two homes got notice about condemnation proceedings last September, and there was no indication that a public process was involved or that city council approval was needed, she said. "They were led to believe it was a done deal."

Council member Jan Drago doesn't think it's a done deal. She joined council members Sally Clark, David Della and Richard Conlin in voting against the condemnation motions.

The city has said potential new sites in and around Interbay are in liquefaction zones, which makes them unsuitable. But Drago said liquefaction maps indicate that some areas just off 15th Avenue West aren't.

"So it seems to be these might be viable alternatives," she said of locations next to the P-Patch on the west side and near Gilman Avenue West on the east side.

Dean said the Fire Department did look at 15th but decided against it because it would be hard for fire trucks to merge with the speeding traffic on the major arterial. He also shot down another of Drago's suggestions to put the new station at 13th and West Nickerson because fire trucks would have to negotiate onramps and off ramps.

Peter Steinbrueck joined council members Nick Licata, Richard McIver and Jean Godden to vote yes on the condemnation motions. "None of us takes this lightly, condemnation," he said. "We don't like to do it." Steinbrueck added that he'd wracked his brain trying to come up with a better solution, but was unsuccessful.

He also compared the battle over the fire station to the battle over replacing the Queen Anne water tower, saying it will cost more the longer the decision is put off. "I feel we have no other choice," Steinbrueck said. "I feel I have to support this."

Paganelli from Concerned Neighbors said her group was hopeful the move to condemn the three homes will fail and that a week's extra time will give council members a chance to come up with a viable alternative. "I'm not sure how that will play out," she said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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