Fire station plan hits snag with residents’ professional testimony.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Fire department representatives brought a half-inch thick study to Tuesday night’s planning board hearing to prove Jenkins Road is a good site for a new station.
But neighbors had their own experts to refute parts of it — themselves.
Wake Forest Fire Chief Ron Early has requested a special-use permit to put a fifth station on two acres of land owned by Peter Nguyen and Lynn K. Lou at 1509 Jenkins Road. The site is across from Fullard Drive, about three-tenths of a mile west of town limits.
Consulting Engineer Joe Faulkner and others testified that not only does the site meet all requirements of town ordinances, but they made changes to parking and the treeline following contentious meetings with residents living adjacent on Jenkins Road and nearby in Matherly and Canonbie subdivisions.
The officials’ contention is that the grading and tree and fence buffering will reduce siren noise in the semi-rural area, that property values won’t go down and that the presence of a fire station enhances public safety and general welfare.
Meeting such findings of facts are required by state law during special-use hearings.
But several neighbors of the proposed site took issue with certain claims.
Matherly resident Tina Mast is a certified plant professional, gardening consultant and gardening writer with more than a decade of experience in the field. She disagreed with the study, which reports that the 25-foot tree buffer will mitigate the sound of the fire engine sirens.
The standard is 100 feet of trees for every 3 to 5 decibels reduced, she argued.
She also criticized the site plan, which calls for saving only four trees on one corner (others would be replanted).
“The town of Wake Forest has been named a Tree City USA for 31 years,” she said. “This fire station is not in keeping with the semi-rural nature of the community.”
Next door to the potential station lives Martha Hess, a licensed insurance agent. Her no-no was the claim in the fire department packet that the station would translate directly into a lower Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, which would mean a lower premium for homeowners insurance.
The industry standard is not in feet, but miles, she noted.
“The factor that is most important is how close you are in proximity to a fire hydrant,” she said. “[Since] we are within five miles of the nearest fire station, this will have no impact on our insurance rates.”
Next up was Ingrid Tillman, a Canobie Lane resident who is also a real estate professional. She diligently explained how real estate agents have to disclose “material facts” when selling houses.
“[The disclosure comprises] a laundry list of material facts: problems, defects, malfunctions and other issues that may affect that property,” she said, “… including noise.”
They weren’t the only ones to speak; many of the 16-17 people in the crowd opposing the project raised objections. But town Attorney Eric Vernon warned that the planning board and town board will disregard any commentary that is not expert testimony.
One of the neighbors, Chip Heath, acknowledged he isn’t a traffic engineer. But he said he’s an expert at how dangerous it is entering the road at the intersection. Other comments from the crowd were less impactful.
The station’s original opponent, Lynn Snow, who lives on Fullard Drive close to the intersection with Jenkins, indicated that the pitch and intensity of the siren would be harmful to people’s health.
A fire truck siren is 20 times louder than a passing train, she said, adding that at 120 decibels, you can physically feel the siren, it raises blood pressure and scares special-needs children.
“Many of us will be shaken in our beds every time a fire truck goes by,” she claimed.
“Hearing loss begins at 85 decibels,” she continued, later adding that it amounts to secondhand noise, which is as “noxious” as secondhand smoke.
Faulkner countered that the 120-decibel level is the fire engine’s maximum, which is only reached when the engine is in traffic. Early confirmed that, saying they can lower the siren at night or when no one is on the road.
He added that none of the neighbors who objected to the department building stations on Ligon Mill Road and Forestville Road have since raised any concerns.
Snow questioned every fire department witness, some several times, until Vernon’s patience began to wear out.
“No ma’am,” he finally said when she got up to speak again. “You’ve asked questions. You’ve had rebuttal. You’re done.”
Since the fire department’s real estate witness wasn’t present to answer questions about a claim the station won’t harm surrounding property values, the petitioners asked that the meeting be continued to next month.
The public hearing will remain open until then.
•Urbanization: The Planning Board agreed to a request by Experience One Homes to rezone 13 acres on Main Divide Drive in Bowling Green to a new designation created by the recently approved Unified Development Ordinance. It will allow a variety of housing types in a neighborhood setting mixed in with some commercial uses.
•Cleanup: The board also gave the thumbs up for some small changes to the UDO to make it more understandable.
The Planning Board makes recommendations only. All requests go to town commissioners for a final vote.All requests