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At Last, a New Fire Station for Cherrydale

After a 15-year process, which alienated some residents, the county board approves a new fire station in Cherrydale.

After 15 years of false hopes and protracted negotiations with the county, Cherrydale residents will finally be getting a new fire station.

The Arlington County Board last week unanimously approved a controversial proposal to place the new station along Old Dominion Drive. County officials lauded the design of the building and input of Cherrydale residents, but acknowledged that the arduous process — which began before any of the five board members were elected — had vexed many in the community.

“A lot can be said about what was and wasn’t done in the past, but now we have resolved the issue of Fire Station No. 3,” said County Manager Ron Carlee. “There were a lot of difficulties along the way, but people in the neighborhood came together after the board made a decision on the location.”

Residents who came to the board meeting expressed muted satisfaction with the final site plan, but many said they were still miffed that the county did not choose a different location for the fire station. Several stated that the prolonged process made them disenchanted with the county government.

“I have lost the illusion that citizen participation will have any affect” on the board’s decisions, said Kevin O’Brien, a Cherrydale resident, during the board meeting.

Fire Station No. 3 will be built on Old Dominion Drive, just west of Military Road and North Quincy Street. The site is currently occupied by two single-family homes and the Koons Toyota parking lot.

As part of the approved plan, a three-level parking garage will be constructed adjacent to the Koons building to replace the surface lot that will be lost. A portion of North 21st Road will be realigned, new sidewalks built and a small park placed just south of the fire station.

THE EXISTING FIRE Station was built by the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department in 1919, and the red-brick structure is one of the historic landmarks of the neighborhood.

A committee was formed in 1990 to find a new location for the facility. Voters approved bonds for a new station in 1990 and 1994, but the project languished. In 2002 a second citizen task force came up with three possible locations in the neighborhood for the station, but the county opted for the Koons Toyota site despite the objections of residents.

“This site is smack dab in the middle of a residential area and not quite large enough for a fire station,” said Maureen Ross, president of the Cherrydale civic association. “We wanted it along the five-point intersection so it would be a proud civic building.”

The price of the project has not been released, though Carlee said it would be “expensive,” because of rapidly escalating construction costs.

The current station is too small for the fire fighters on duty and possesses only one bay, restricting the number of medical personnel and services it can contain, fire officials said.

“The facility we’ve been operating out of has been inadequate for some time,” said Fire Chief James Schwartz. “It’s unfortunate it has taken this long, but we are happy it has come to a resolution.”

The new station will have four bays and more amenities for the staff, including an exercise room. It will house up to six fire fighters or paramedics working 24-hour shifts.

“We will improve our response time and have a greater apparatus to serve the growing community,” said Mike Alvarado, a captain at Fire Station No. 3.

Many residents said the striking red-brick building will complement the historic character of the neighborhood and turn a blighted site into an attractive gateway to Cherrydale.

“Today we have a beautiful building coming forward,” Eric Dobson, the chair of the community design review task force, told the county board. “The county responded to the needs of the community on the design of the project.”

But the building’s appealing façade did little to assuage the indignation of some Cherrydale residents over the final location of the station and the lengthy negotiations.

“I’m still very offended and angry with the way my neighborhood has been treated,” said Margaret McKelvey, who has lived in Cherrydale for 25 years. “I like to think of Arlington as a first-class suburb, but I am appalled by the ad-hoc nature of this process.”