The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday is expected to approve the first step in ending the life of its oldest fire house, Station 22, on Palm Coast Parkway. The station will be revived as a much larger, more modern station a third of a mile east, on Colbert Lane.
The plan is part of a larger design both to improve firefighters’ response times in emergencies and to improve the often dismal parking situation at the Palm Coast Community center, across the street from Station 22. If the old station is razed, its grounds and those of a city-owned a parcel adjacent to it would be transformed into additional parking, doubling the number of the Community Center’s 116 spaces.
The City Council is also interested in possibly preserving the old fire station and making it part of its parks and recreation network. That would require some costly repairs and upgrades to bring the building up to code. If the costs are prohibitive, the building will be leveled, and memorialized through other means.
The council on Tuesday will also approve the first step in building a new fire station in Seminole Woods, though whether that station is built at the same time as the new Station 22 will depend on city finances. Station 22 has priority. It will be built with impact fee revenue. Design of the new fire station will be completed for $150,000 by Schenkel & Shultz at the end of 2023. Construction would be completed in September 2024.
The abandonment of Station 22 has been long overdue.“We’re putting $100,000 into an old building, and the question that I have,” the late Mayor on Netts had said during a council meeting in 2016, when the council was preparing to approve spending that sum on the latest refurbishment, “will these renovations significantly extend the life or is this a band-aid on a badly bleeding wound? I look at the size of the bays. They’re narrow by anybody’s guestimation. The chief alluded to the fact that you have to buy fire trucks to fit the size of the bay rather than fit the bay to the size of the fire truck. So the question I’m having is, you spend $100,000 on this, do we still have a building that ought to be replaced some time in the foreseeable future?”
The city manager at the time didn’t answer him directly. He said that while the better option would be to build a replacement fire station near Colbert Lane, the band-aid approach was more affordable. “It’s not a one or two year band-aid. It would be a 10, 15-year band-aid,” then-City Manager Jim Landon promised. (See: “City Will Spend $100,000 to Renovate Fire Station 22, Its Oldest, on Palm Coast Parkway.”)
As it turned out, 10 to 15 years was overly optimistic.
Last September the city bought a 193,000 square foot (4.4 acre) parcel a third of a mile east of the existing site, at the corner of Colbert Lane and Palm Coast Parkway’s westbound lanes.
“We’ve already kind of established that station 22 Doesn’t work from a fire department perspective,” Palm Coast Fire Chief Kyle Berryhill said of a station built in 1977, when it was part of Flagler County’s fire services. “It’s almost a 50-year-old building that was not designed for the modern day needs of the fire service. We’ve purchased the replacement site.” Nor are firetrucks designed for it: “We pay more money for a truck that’s smaller and does less to fit into that station that doesn’t meet the needs.”
The building itself has some historic, if not quite architectural, value, because it was among the earlier institutional buildings in the city. The council has been interested in preserving and “re-purposing” it, Berryhill said. But definitely not as a fire station or anything related to the fire services. Even as a parks and recreation facility, it would require a new roof and bringing the building to current code.
“We anticipate that to be a very expensive endeavor,” Berryhill said. A grant program from the Florida Division of Historical Resources could provide up to $50,000–not much, but a start. The old station would be memorialized “whether it’s a plaque or bell or whatever it may be,” Council member Theresa Pontieri said, at the old site or even at its new location. So keeping the building up is not exactly a top priority, especially when the city is contending with its other problem there: a lack of parking for the community center.
There are neighboring businesses and a church that have plenty of parking. Brookdale, the assisted living facility at 3 Club House Drive, allows overflow parking for Community Center patrons and city staffers. That’s across Palm Coast Parkway. Florida Health Care is open to allowing overflow parking only after 6 p.m. and on weekends.But Office Park Medical Plaza and St. Mark by the Sea Lutheran church are not open to sharing their parking lots. Their reason: liability.
The city considered all options, including razing parts of its own rounds around the Community center, such as the playground and the basketball court. But aside from the sacrilege of it, “We do see utilization” in the thousands, Parks and Recreation Director James Hurst said, “our summer camp uses it, our winter camp uses it and then also the basketball court is heavily utilized until 10 p.m. at night.” So that’s off the table.
No landscaped space on the grounds of the Community Center may be converted to parking–not unless the city were to violate its own land development code. Several trees on the property are protected or considered historic, in the playground area especially. The trees are also part of a highly valued canopy corridor in the city, along Palm Coast Parkway.
But the city owns those valuable parcels just east of the Community Center, across the street from Club House: the 36,000 square feet on which sits Fire Station 22. Then, paralleling the fire station’s land to the south, a 7,700-square foot sliver, itself connecting to a larger, 36,000-square foot, wooded parcel just east of the fire station.
That latter parcel could be turned into a parking lot, accommodating 70 spaces. “It would be connected-ish to the community center,” Berryhill said. If Station 22 is too cost-prohibitive to refurbish into some kind of historic site, it could be razed and yield an additional 42 spaces–not more, because there are protected trees on the site. The total would be 112 spaces. The current Community Center’s parking lot has 116 spaces.
“I think 70 Additional spaces would be greatly appreciated,” Council member Ed Danko said. “I don’t know if we need to go further than that. But we don’t have enough parking there. It’s really that simple. What’s that song, ‘paved paradise and put up a parking lot’? I’m sorry, but we need some parking spaces. So I like that number, 70.” (He was referring to “Big Yellow Taxi,” the 1970 Joni Mitchell song that opens, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot / With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot.”)
Council member Nick Klufas likes the idea of preserving the old station, but only if it’s affordable. “It’s not only just a historical building, but somewhat like a cornerstone, a pillar people of our community have passed through there,” Klufas said. “It’s also very reminiscent to me. That really goes in line with the old community center. That building we have is a million times better now. It used to be like a basement above ground, basically, no windows around it. But it’s such a beautiful facility that drives so much demand and traffic that those 70 spots would totally be welcomed.”
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin seemed less wedded to preservation. The priority is parking. “That’s not something that we are going to have a lot of flexibility with,” Alfin said of expanding parking for the Community Center. “You just have to have it otherwise you’re going to restrict the use of the facility which is not in favor of the residents.”