High property costs are making it hard to find suitable land in north Lakeland for a new fire station, City Manager Shawn Sherrouse told city commissioners today.
He made the comment after several residents of Foxwood Lake Estates came to this morning’s City Commission meeting to press for an update on plans to either relocate Fire Station 3, currently at North Florida Avenue and Bella Vista Street, or build a new fire station farther north.
“Unfortunately, some of the properties that we have taken a look at and had discussions with property owners have been a little out of reach in terms of cost,” Sherrouse said.
Fire Chief Douglas E. Riley and Special Projects Manager Jason Willey continue looking for property, he said. The city was interested in some county-owned land for a station and proposed a land swap with Polk County, but county officials were not interested, Sherrouse told city commissioners.
The city’s 2022 budget includes $1.8 million to buy land in north Lakeland for a fire station, according to Finance Director Michael Brossart. This includes $1 million from the public improvement fund and $800,000 from fire impact fees, he said.
Riley alerted commissioners to the need for a relocated station to serve north Lakeland and reduce response times during a strategic planning meeting in spring 2019.
The city staff is preparing a report on progress toward finding the property for this year’s strategic planning session, scheduled for Feb. 23-24, Sherrouse told commissioners today.
“That will be one of the topics for discussion, about how we might advance the ability to purchase or acquire a property in that north Lakeland area,” he said. “The fire chief and his administration are working on that every week. It’s just a matter of finding the right location and one that the city can afford.”
Around 20 residents of Foxwood Lake Estates, a community of 445 manufactured homes off of Gibsonia-Galloway Road, attended today’s commission meeting. Their main concern was reducing emergency response time to their community 4.4 miles north of the current fire station.
“We would like to see the city put a new fire station at north Lakeland so that the response time is less and we would have a chance to survive a fire,” said Gloria Hodgdon, president of the Foxwood Lake Estates Property Owners Association.
Fire Department response times to her community are 12 to 15 minutes and should be three to five minutes, she said, noting that the area is continuing to attract new houses, apartments and nursing homes.
Fire Station 3 responded to 7,121 calls in 2020, far more than any of the other six stations, according to a Lakeland Fire Department info graphic. (LkldNow has requested 2021 numbers as well, but have not received them yet.)
The next highest in number of calls were Station 1 (downtown) with 4,570 calls and Station 2 (South Florida Avenue and Beacon Road) with 4,127 calls.
Hodgdon and other members of her group emphasized that they want the city to build a new fire department to cover the northern reaches of Lakeland and keep station 3 in place to serve midtown.
“What would be the point of moving Station 3 and what would happen to the people who are already being served appropriately by Station 3?” asked Foxwood Lake Estates resident Abbie Griffin. “It wouldn’t make any sense to me to have it moved. You’d need more space, more equipment.”
Mayor Bill Mutz said a determination of response times would go into a decision on where to place the new fire station.
“If you can’t demonstrate that those run times wouldn’t be the same or would serve adequately, then you’re absolutely right: We need a new station,” he told Griffin. “We are feduciarily responsible for how we spend taxpayers money. So it’s always weighting those things. Public safety is here (he raised one hand above his head) and cost is here (he raised his other hand to face level) in terms of priority.”
Commissioner Phillip Walker, who represents much of north Lakeland, asked Sherrouse for an analysis of response times from Station 3. Sherrouse said that would be part of his staff’s presentation to the commission during the Feb. 23-24 retreat.
This is the second City Commission meeting in a row in which citizens raised questions about public safety response times.
When the commission met on Dec. 20, several residents of Carillon Lakes questioned response times from Fire Station 7, located on the eastern part of Lakeland Linder Airport, in light of traffic congestion and rapid residential development in southwest Lakeland.