SOMERS, N.Y. - A new “downtown” firehouse—which would also provide a command post for emergencies and, not incidentally, guarantee a continued state police presence in Somers—passed a key regulatory hurdle last week.
The planning board, in a 5-1 vote, approved IBM’s sale of land, now home to the state police barracks on Route 100, to the Somers Fire District. Fire officials look to build a public safety center there, replacing their half-century-old firehouse on Route 202 and providing expanded space for the state police.
Carved from more than 160 acres that IBM owns in the area, the 12-acre parcel is already in contract to be sold to the fire district for an undisclosed sum. The subdivision approval allows the district to close the deal, an action expected in the next couple of months. The project must then win two critical approvals: the planning board’s on every detail of the new facility and the public’s, on a bond to pay for it.
With extended municipal reviews on tap, Somers’ top fire official said in an interview that a referendum could be a year or more away. “Government doesn’t move fast,” said John Markiewicz, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, noting that the project must undergo further regulatory scrutiny by town, county and New York City bodies as well as two state agencies. “You get done with one and then another says, ‘Oh, by the way, you need to do this, you need to do that.’”
Such detailed inquiry, while necessary, is also expensive, Markiewicz warned. “All of the nuances and bureaucracy and everything else are going to cost the taxpayers,” he said. “We’re not a developer coming in. We’re not going to pass it on to our tenants.”
Among those tenants are likely to be the state troopers who now occupy what they call a too-small, 3,000-square-foot structure on the same Route 100 property. Unhappy with their quarters, leased from IBM, the state police have talked about locating elsewhere. Now, Markiewicz said, state police brass have embraced the safety center, with some 7,000 feet set aside for the troopers’ operations.
“By us doing this,” the commissioner said, “we’re going to ensure the state police in the town for a number of years. Whatever the number of years on the lease is, that ‘s the number of years they’re going to be in town.”
In addition, if Somers is hit with a hurricane, snowstorm or other calamity, town officials—the supervisor, highway superintendent, chief of police and others—could use the building as a central command post, linked to the world and each other by phone, computer and radio.
The new quarters would replace a firehouse on Route 202 near the Somerstown Center shopping complex. “The building’s too small,” Markiewicz said of the existing structure. “Ten years down the road, the building’s going to be totally non-functional. Before we get to that point, we want a building that’s going to get the fire district through the next 50 to 60 years without having to worry about it.”
Plans call for the building being left behind on Route 202 to be donated to the town for use as a community center. Besides being too small for the firefighters’ needs, Markiewicz pointed out, the current downtown firehouse does not have an ambulance. In an emergency at, say, nearby Heritage Hills, an ambulance must now be dispatched from the fire department’s Lincolndale headquarters. “We’re going to put an ambulance in the [proposed] new building.”
The Planning Board moved the building a step closer to reality with its Jan. 11 vote to authorize subdividing 12 of IBM’s 166 acres. Board member Eugene Goldenberg cast the lone dissent, arguing that the environmental impact on IBM’s entire tract—including wetlands, ponds and streams—be considered before the subdivision approval was granted. The town’s Open Space Committee had urged a similar holistic approach in an October memorandum.
But Joseph Barbagallo, the consulting town engineer, said that ecological concerns will be fully addressed in forthcoming site plan reviews, a position endorsed by a board majority in separate 5-1 votes on both environmental and subdivision issues.
Markiewicz later pointed to that protracted Wednesday evening debate, with his professional consultants’ billing clock running, as an example of the expensive regulatory gauntlet a project faces. “Talking for an hour cost me an hour’s time with my attorney and my architect that the taxpayers are going to pay for,” he said.
“We’re here to provide a public safety center for the residents of the town of Somers at the least possible cost. And the more they talk,” Markiewicz said of the regulatory oversight this project faces, “the more they delay, the more they want to meet, the higher the cost is going to be.”