The Meridian Township board voted to move ahead with a new central fire station Tuesday night, more than a year after voters approved it in November 2012.
Six of seven voting members approved the fire station -- located on a parcel at Okemos Rd. and Central Park Dr. -- which would replace the now closed Central Station on Clinton St., moving past complaints from residents nearby who say the new station will affect their property values and quality of life.
"Unfortunately I think the only satisfaction for some folks will be for us not to use that site for any public purpose, to leave it undeveloped and that isn't a reality," said treasurer Julie Brixie, who supported the new station. "We've really done a number of things to accommodate their concerns and what I think we're left with is a fire station that really takes their concerns into account."
At its last meeting, the township board voted to move the station's driveway from Central Park Dr. west to Okemos Rd. Other considerations include erasing plans for a training tower and adding trees to muffle the sound.
Fire Chief Fred Cowper said trucks should be able to leave the fire station most of the time without their sirens blaring. Technology that allows the department to control traffic lights from the building make it possible.
Cowper is all for the station, which the township says will speed up responses.
"Location, location, location," said Brixie, when asked why the station had to be at that particular intersection. "It's really centrally located in Meridian Township. It improves the response times for the majority of calls we receive."
Members of the public argued both sides of the issue. Opponents said sirens could have an effect on their health and cited environmental issues. Others though said it was the way the board went about things that concerned them.
"Voters voted on a millage, but there's a key point there," said Meridian Township Clerk Brett Dreyfus, the only one to vote against the station. "Did they know exactly what they were voting on?"
He says tying the millage request to a specific location was a "poor tactical decision" driven by political agendas. Voters, he argued, assumed the land had been vetted, when important steps like a special use permit were skipped.
"It doesn't look good when a township requires a private enterprise to go through a number of hurdles and a number of stages that one might call the bureaucratic process and then the township skip over a few of those because it's inconvenient," he said. "That just doesn't add up. It's not fair."
Dreyfus said he wouldn't necessarily be opposed to pulling the plug on the project and starting from scratch to do things the right way.
"I think Americans want things done quickly and they're very impatient," he said. "And when things get sticky and complicated, there's a strong incentive for us to move fast. That impatience is what got us into the problem in the first place."
The fight may not be over yet. Residents at the Autumn Park Condominiums have threatened lawsuits in the past, according to board members. An attorney for Autumn Park residents would not comment at the time.
Until the new station is built, firefighters are bunking at the north and south stations. A temporary central station, in the township's service center, should be completed by Apr. 21, Chief Cowper said.