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Larger Fire Station Approved

New fence will be constructed.

The smallest fire station in Montgomery County can now double in size.

The Planning Board approved renovation plans for the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department's station on Falls Road last Thursday, Oct. 16.

Under the approved plans, the station, currently the smallest in the county, will roughly double in size, from 5,492 square feet to 11,116.

In spite of the increase, the building, which looks like a small house, is expected to maintain a non-intrusive look.

“This is a sensitive treatment of the site that will maintain the residential character,” said Callum Murray, Potomac team leader for Park and Planning.

Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department wants to add a second story to the building, which will allow for a locker room and other facilities for the station’s female firefighters. Currently, women are forced to share space with men.

Also planned is a two-bay addition to the garages. This will allow the Department to store its new tanker truck, which will help provide service to areas of the county without fire hydrants.

Some residents had been upset about the plans for renovation, citing an agreement they say they had with the Department — that the station would be relocated if an expansion was needed.

The Potomac Master Plan, approved by the County Council in March of 2002, states that if the existing site could not accommodate an expansion, it would have to be relocated.

Residents were also upset about the noise created by the truck’s sirens, but the Planning Board determined that it could not regulate an operational issue such as that.

THE PLANNING BOARD SET a number of conditions for approval of the renovation, including requirements for fencing. (See box.)

Michael Farhandi is an abutting property owner who can see the station from his living room and from several other rooms in his house.

The Department frequently stores wrecked cars in back of the building for emergency rescue training. While Farhandi said he values the Department as a good neighbor, he wanted something to mitigate the sight and noise impacts involved in such training exercises.

One of the conditions of approving the expansion had been the construction of a 6-foot, board-on-board fence.

Farhandi suggested a brick fence. “I do want to make sure that the barrier is something of a permanent structure,” Farhandi said.

The Planning Board voted for an 8-foot fence instead, citing the expense of brick as opposed to wood. They said it might be unreasonable to ask the Fire Department to construct a brick fence.

“It might be beyond what is expected,” said Alison Bryant, Planning Board commissioner.

Bryant suggested to Farhandi that if he wants a more substantial structure, he could offer to split the costs with the Cabin John Fire Department.

THE LARGE tower antenna was also raised in discussion at Park and Planning.

Initially, Park and Planning commissioner Allison Bryant had suggested that the tower be disguised as a flagpole. “We try to minimize intrusions,” he said.

The tower antenna is currently used by the county as part of an emergency network.

“It is maintained by the county's radio shop,” Murray said.

Since the Cabin John Fire Department doesn't own the antenna, changing the appearance of the tower was not made one of the conditions of the approval of the plan.