SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A proposal from the Union Fire District to build a new ambulance facility on leased land at the Matunuck fire station has drawn concern from residents, but continues to move forward.
The Planning Board is holding a hearing on its review of the fire district’s plans to demolish the existing fire station and build a new 5,500 square foot fire station and auxiliary 1,890 square foot ambulance facility. The hearing opened Oct. 26 and continued on Tuesday.
The Planning Board is serving in an advisory capacity to the Zoning Board for the application. The use of the fire station and ambulance building is permitted.
“It would go to the Zoning Board as a next step,” solicitor Amy Goins said. “The Planning Board is not the final decision maker in this process, the Zoning Board would be the final decision maker.”
Such a development plan review also doesn’t have deadlines similar to master plan and preliminary stage reviews.
EMS Chief Craig Stanley approached the Town Council in June with the proposal to lease land from the fire district in order to build a new Matunuck station. The Town Council would need to approve a lease.
A small station at the rear of the fire district’s Matunuck School House Road property would include a single bay for an ambulance and a living quarters, Stanley said. The ambulance plans to add a third transport vehicle next July, he said.
The goal, Stanley said, is to improve ambulance response times to the western part of South Kingstown, from Matunuck and Green Hill to the Charlestown town line. Call volume has increased annually since 2015, he noted.
“This will cut our response times to that area in half,” Stanley said.
Stanley put forth the idea the EMS could lease the building from the Union Fire District for $100,000 per year over a 10-year period, with an option to renew. Should negotiations be successful, the chief would have to return to the Town Council with a lease agreement for final approval.
Residents John Dolan Sr. and Donna Dolan said they don’t have a problem with a replacement fire station.
“Our concerns are with the lack of transparency regarding the impact to the Matunuck area,” John Dolan said. “School House Road is a quiet winding road that is enjoyed by bicyclists and walkers and is not conducive to emergency vehicles. The volume of rescue runs vs. fire runs would need to be researched and studied to determine if this is the best course of action. This land abuts farm fields and land trust acreage which is appreciated and enjoyed for its bucolic setting. These plans change a relatively quiet firehouse into a 24-hour EMS hub.”
Resident David Coté cited a lack of information about the proposal, such as financial data, a needs assessment, alternative site recommendations, response time data and a safety assessment.
“The community deserves to have all the relevant facts prior to the Planning Board making any decisions about any topic,” he said.
“We are concerned about improved EMS response times,” Coté added. “You have to do it right and you have to look at the data.”
Margaret Hogan, solicitor for the fire district, said it was willing to discuss the concerns of abutting neighbors. Hogan said changes were made to the plan to try to assuage those concerns.
However, neighbors continue to oppose the EMS facility.
“It appears the community is not necessarily opposed to the reconstruction of the fire station, although there have been some minor rumblings about that,” she said. “It appears the primary objection is the installation of the EMS building at this site in this area at a distance from Route 1.”
Hogan said it’s important to note that the Union Fire District was accommodating the town.
“We did not go to it, it came to us. We stopped our plans, we redesigned, redesigned and redesigned, all at the expense of additional taxpayer funds through the Union Fire District.”
The district also negotiated an agreement, still unsigned, to share some of the design costs with the town.
But Hogan said that discussions by the council at its Oct. 25 meeting made it “abundantly clear” the town has backed away from support for the project.
“Even if we got through this process with the EMS building intact, the town was very much contemplating walking away,” from the agreement, she said.
Hogan told the board the district has considered options for if the town decides not to build the EMS building. The district’s project has faced several delays due to COVID and other factors, Hogan said.
“We would like to move forward,” she said.