Lack of quorum at hearing pushes projects back a month.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — If the Planning Board were a movie, last week could be called Assault on Station No. 4.
Opponents of the planned fire station for 1509 Jenkins Road kept the heat on during the Nov. 7 meeting, leading to several rebukes by town attorney Eric Vernon.
Vernon also issued a warning a month before during the first public hearing on the subject, to Lynn Snow, the most vocal of the fire station’s opponents.
Last week, he interrupted her when she began reading from the town’s Community Plan, which dissuades development of commercial sites next to residential neighborhoods.
“Miss Snow! This isn’t a time to be pulling unsubstantiated comments out of thin air,” Vernon exclaimed. “This is not a commercial property. This is taken totally out of context. It is not appropriate.”
But the Wake Forest Fire Department came armed with firepower of its own this time, in the form of certified real estate appraiser Winston Morgan and sound expert Norrell Stewart.
Stewart was brought in to refute some of the residents’ claims that fire engines register louder on the decibel meter than trains and perhaps gunshots, noting that each sound has a different standard of how far away the measurement is taken.
“The siren on a fire truck is not quite as loud as a train whistle,” he said.
He also acknowledged that while the sound of a siren diminishes significantly at a distance and off to the sides, it will still be prominently heard by people closest to the future fire station.
“These things are going to affect some people, they’re going to affect some people more than others,” he added.
But the bulk of the hearing involved Morgan defending his opinion that property values will not suffer significantly from having the fire station nearby.
Firehouses are built in many residential neighborhoods and, recession aside, property values haven’t dropped as a result, he said.
Finding a situation similar to this one, where a station was being added to a rural residential neighborhood already in existence, wasn’t easy, at least not in Wake Forest, he said.
He added that he had to widen his search area to find what he considered a comparable situation, in Smith Creek, in which people living near a train track had a firehouse also built nearby.
Morgan was specifically looking for areas where homes were sold, a fire station was built, and then they were resold, to determine the station’s effect on property values.
“The properties sold and resold … there is no measurable impact on value,” he said.
He also used a few houses in Wake Forest’s Porto Fino neighborhood adjacent to Fire Station No. 2 on Ligon Mill Road, to illustrate that there was a less than 1 percent loss in value — after the recession and housing slump.
Resident Andy Mast, who got up multiple times to speak against the station, noted no one was there to speak in favor of it, a point which Vernon called “irrelevant.”
It wasn’t clear if that prompted Scott Hull to speak, but the rural Wake Forest resident did get up and offer his approval of the fire station.
Fire trucks now take 10 minutes to get to his home located on the Franklin County border, from Stony Hill or Wake Forest, he said, adding, “If my home were on fire, I’d appreciate a firehouse closer.”
When Mast got up to retort, audible groans were heard from those in attendance.
Some 25 people were also present for a public hearing about an Edens Land Corp. request to rezone 1.2 acres on Wall Road in front of Richland Hills subdivision from conditional-use highway business to residential mixed-use, a classification allowed under the new Unified Development Ordinance.
The lot is in Franklin County with a Wake Forest address.
All that exists on the site now is an empty parking lot, paved for a commercial building that was approved in 2006 but never constructed.
The new zoning would allow commercial or residential structures — including multifamily housing — to be built on the lot, which is precisely what developer’s representative Jerry Eden said was wanted there.
And, even though a highway business zoning allows all sorts of commercial uses, including gentlemen’s clubs, for example, the residents were more concerned about parking issues and other issues related to multifamily living.
“What I’ve found is, crime comes with apartments,” resident Jason Thorpe said.
Eden promised to meet with residents to work out some issues.
No action was taken after the public hearings were closed, because there wasn’t a quorum on the nine-member board. Planning Board members who were not present will have to review the tape of the proceedings in order to vote in December.