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Consensus elusive on fire station location

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

While the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department may still relocate its firehouse to the Zupancis Property on Main Street, a final decision appears to be a long way off.

A vote Wednesday night among members of the Headquarters Steering Committee did little to settle the matter. The vote was 10-7 in favor of moving the station from its current location on Hopkins Street, but that’s still one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to instigate the move.

“This is not in any sense a climactic event,” said Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob. “This vote reflects an awareness of the fact this needs to be a broader discussion.”

Grob said a lack of public input, combined with insufficient details regarding the city’s offer, has delayed the decision.

“There are some issues that cannot be resolved at this stage of the game,” Grob said. “Everybody is in general agreement we need to wait on it a little bit.”

The Headquarters Steering Committee will meet with the Fire District Board of Directors next Wednesday to discuss the vote and present the committee’s final report. After receiving the final report, the Fire District Board will meet with the Aspen City Council to discuss a host of issues involving the future location of the firehouse.

“This is the end of one phase and the beginning of another,” Grob said. “There are some fundamental issues we need to explore.”

Grob said he would not disclose his opinion on the issue. “I can’t go there. I have board members, volunteers and a profound sense of duty to both of them,” Grob said. “I’m more interested in building this consensus.”

Furthermore, Grob said there is no consensus one way or the other: Neither the volunteer firefighters nor the steering committee members are in the same boat on the issue.

The possibility of a new headquarters station surfaced last year when the City Council purchased the Zupancis property and asked the Fire District Board to consider relocating. The property was acquired for $3 million.

According to a press release, there have been no discussions between the City Council and the Fire District Board on specific terms regarding the transfer of the property.

The Headquarters Steering Committee was formed last year by the Fire District Board after the Zupancis Property became available. The committee’s sole purpose is to provide the district with a recommendation on the issue.

Tom Baker was the facilitator for the 17-member Steering Committee, which included paid staff, volunteer firefighters and members of the district board. The committee has met 13 times over the last nine months.

“The committee spent a lot of time going through all the critical factors that made up this decision, and everyone was frank and honest throughout the deliberations,” Baker said in a press release.

“Although we didn’t reach a two-thirds majority, this vote accurately reflects the deliberations and will be extremely useful for the Fire District Board as it begins the next phase of this process,” he continued.

Some supporters of the move said the Zupanicis site is considerably larger than the Hopkins Avenue location, offering greater potential to meet the long-term future needs of the district and its population, according to the press release.

Furthermore, the existing location on Hopkins Avenue requires firefighters to deal with hordes of pedestrians, bicyclists and cars when pulling out of the station in response to an emergency. The Zupancis location also provides better parking, which is vital to a volunteer department that has firefighters driving to the station every time the siren sounds.

Some members of the Steering Committee feel that vacating the current station will harm the history, culture, and tradition of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, according to the press release.

The Aspen Fire Protection District is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and is governed by an elected board of directors that sets the budget and policies for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department. The district reaches from Difficult Campground to Gerbazdale and Woody Creek, and up Maroon Creek and Castle Creek, covering about 87 square miles.

[Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com]


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