Morgantown Council passes fire station property purchase on first reading

Jan. 3—MORGANTOWN — Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli said the city initially identified and evaluated 10 potential locations before ultimately selecting 1.5 acres at the corner of Don Knotts Boulevard and Prairie Avenue to be the future home of Morgantown Fire Department Station 1.

Morgantown City Council passed on first reading Tuesday an ordinance purchasing that property, which is comprised of 11 parcels, from Merit Development for $725, 000.

The meeting drew a handful of 1st Ward residents, including Peter Wentzel, whose family lives across South High Street from the address Station 1 has called home for the last 50-plus years.

"We really benefit from having the station there. They are our neighbors. They are our friends. They are part of our fabric that makes up our neighborhood, " he said.

It was suggested by Wentzel and others that the site of the defunct car wash, roughly 400 feet from the MFD's current location, might be a better fit as it would not only keep the department in the neighborhood, but off the frequently congested Don Knotts Boulevard.

"I cannot imagine a fire truck pulling out onto Don Knotts Avenue between Prairie Avenue and Foundry Street, " Tim Bleech said. "Traffic backs up there all the time. There's no way to get out of the way there. I can't see how this helps response times."

Muzzarelli said the Don Knotts property was selected through a process that included representatives from the fire department as well as FGM Architects, a national firm specializing in public safety facilities.

She said the current location is simply too small at well under one acre. Even if you did build a building tall enough to give the department the space it needs inside, it wouldn't alleviate the constraints caused by the parcel's small footprint.

The car wash site, she continued, is both smaller and more expensive than the Don Knotts property due to the business on the site.

As for traffic, it's anticipated overhead traffic signals will be installed to stop traffic on Don Knotts Boulevard when trucks are exiting the station.

"It's like buying a house. You're never going to find the perfect house in the perfect location with the perfect back yard, but we are excited about having a first-class facility for our first responders — one that we have room to grow in, " Muzzarelli said.

The new station will be funded, at least in part, using $6 million in Congressionally Directed Spending, or earmarks. The city will likely supplement those dollars from its capital escrow account.

In other news from Tuesday's meeting, council agreed to take up an ordinance creating the city's first Private Outdoor Designated Area, or PODA.

A PODA is an area in which customers can purchase alcoholic beverages from participating businesses and carry them anywhere within the district.

The district to be considered will be comprised generally of the city's downtown and Wharf areas.

The PODA ordinance will appear on council's Jan. 16 agenda.