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New Fire Station Proposed

Mixed use buildings increase Alexandria's urban characteristics.

Whether to reduce Alexandria Fire Department's Del Ray Station 202 to only Emergency Medical Services or keep it as a full service fire station came under further analysis Tuesday night at the latest meeting of the Potomac Yard Fire Station and Affordable Housing Task Force.

Meeting at Mount Vernon Elementary School, the Task Force heard from various City representatives on the proposal of the Potomac Yard Development, LLC, to establish a new Potomac Yard Fire Station with an affordable housing component. It would replace the present station on Windsor Avenue as a fire suppression station but maintain its as the home of the existing Medical Emergency Services unit.

The plan includes a provision for 60 units of affordable housing to be constructed on the upper floors of the mid-rise building to be located in Landbay G of the completed Potomac Yard complex. The EMS unit would remain at Station 202 for the next five to eight years, according to the proposal.

"This is an exciting opportunity for us to get a modern station. But, we also have thoroughly analyzed the proposal based on delivery of service which is always our primary objective," Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris told the Task Force members and dozen citizens attending the meeting. A response time of four minutes from station to incident scene is the standard for Alexandria's Fire Department, according to Mesaris.

"We used a computer model to analyze the entire city to make sure a new station at Potomac Yard would meet that goal. We found that this area has excellent coverage," Mesaris said. "Some other jurisdictions consider a response time of six and even eight minutes acceptable. We do not."

During previous public Task Force meetings citizens have expressed concerns that coverage of the Del Ray area would be reduced if the Windsor Avenue station were no longer a fire fighting station. However, through a detailed analysis as illustrated by Mesaris Tuesday night that concern is unfounded.

As explained earlier by Battalion Chief John North, "The developer has not only offered to build the station but also completely

outfit it. It will be a $6 million turnkey station," he said. The 60 affordable housing units immediately above the station will be designed as affordable "workforce housing," according to North.

Due to its age and design the present Del Ray station, built in 1926, can not house much of the modern firefighting apparatus. "For example, the doors are only 10 feet high and the interior of the bays cannot be raised due to support beams," North explained. Most modern, large firefighting apparatus requires a height of at least 14 feet, according to North.

"After 9/11 we received a grant for new equipment. But, we can not get that into the present Del Ray station due to space limitations. It is stored outside. It needs to get under roof," he said.

Mesaris reiterated that fact in his presentation Tuesday night. "This is expensive equipment. It needs to be protected so that it remains highly effective," he said.

IN THEIR RESPONSE TIME analysis, the department analyzed their current fire coverage based on the location of all stations throughout the City. They also evaluated the number of calls received throughout the year in difference areas of the City.

The latter data showed that Potomac Yard is a high call volume area. Del Ray, like most primarily residential areas, is in a relatively low to moderate call area based on annualized statistics.

EMS capabilities are not based in every station. Therefore, their response time must be analyzed using different data, according to North. Using the same methodology as used for fire suppression analysis it indicated the EMS unit should be maintained at Station 202, North pointed out.

"We try to think 20 years ahead. Not only is equipment and apparatus changing but the entire fire service is changing particularly in terms of personnel," he said.

The new station will have individual bedrooms and seven baths to accommodate both male and female personnel. It will also have a community room, storage capabilities for HazMat equipment and be ADA compliant.

As now planned, it will be designated as Station 209. The projected location will be near the proposed Potomac Yard Town Center. This location will provide quick response time to Del Ray, according to departmental analysis. "The actual response routes will vary depending on circumstances such as time of day and traffic conditions," Mesaris said.

The developer has proposed a three bay station with the option of four bay at City expense, according to Tuesday night's presentation. The station design will be based on housing Engine 202, HazMat 202, Support Units 202 and 252, a HazMat trailer plus two additional trailers.The control room and the kitchen/dayrooms will be located on an exterior wall at ground level for secure, open access to the public.

IN ANSWER to a question pertaining to noise mitigation for residents in the affordable units above the station, Mesaris stated that has been taken into consideration through a variety of design and construction elements. One example is that the normal overhead doors to the engine bays will be replaced by folding doors that do not have the concussion factor when opening.

There will be two levels of underground parking for residents with an entrance and exit opposite from the fire station to alleviate any conflict in emergency situations. Eighteen spaces will be provided for fire department personnel.

Of the proposed 60 affordable/workforce housing units, plans call for 12 one bedroom units at 914 sq.ft.; 45 two bedroom units at 1,150 sq.ft; and 3 three bedroom units at 1,425 sq. ft. Other amenities in the building will include "a small fitness facility and a community/business center with some open rooftop space."

A range of potential rental prices are under consideration based on income factors and number of occupants. With the aim of emphasizing the units as "workforce affordable housing" rates are being evaluated in relation to salaries of various public employee positions. No firm determinations have been made at this time, according to information presented to the Task Force.

Based on the mixed use building concept such as Whole Foods on Duke Street, the present conceptual design of the building is a four story "U" shape. Its anticipated location within Potomac Yard will be directly across from an small open space area.

In considering the mix of a fire station and residential uses, the department studied other similar buildings in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Silver Spring, Maryland; and London, England. Those sites offered a variety of mixes between offices and residential with a fire station on the ground level

The next public comment meeting of the Task Force is scheduled for August 22 at Cora Kelly Center. Following that there will be two other public comment Task Force meetings on August 29 at GW Middle School and September 5. The location of the latter remains to be determined.