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Newcastle firehouse site search paused until after election

Feasibility estimates cost for Indian Hill Road at $3.7M
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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As the election that will decide whether or not a new tax will be reformed approaches, the Newcastle Fire Protection District has put its effort to find a site for a new station on hold.

The district board of directors recently secured a temporary site owned by R&S Properties for its firefighters behind Denny's in Newcastle. The board has determined that its firefighters will be out of the 90-year-old firehouse at 9211 Cypress St. by Oct. 29.

The search for a site for a permanent fire station has intensified over the last year since Measure B passed in a special election in March.

Measure B imposes an annual $146.46 parcel tax on property owners that can be increased up to 3 percent every year after three years. The funds from Measure B are to be used for a new Newcastle firehouse and pay increases and benefits for firefighters.

Since Measure B passed, an effort to reform it has also intensified with the addition to Measure K on the November ballot, which would reduce the $146.46 parcel tax to $30 per parcel after three years and stop the 3 percent tax increase. The battle over both measures has drawn heated debates and spurred several residents to run for election to oust current Newcastle fire board members.

Yvonne Lewis, chairperson of the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors, said a feasibility study being conducted on a parcel of land off of Indian Hill Road next to the California Highway Patrol has been put on hold now that the first phase has been completed. No further action will be taken on any potential site for the new firehouse until after the election.

"We can't go any further until after the election," Lewis said. "We're not any further than we were six months ago; in fact, we're in worse shape now because we have to be out of the station by the 29th."

The feasibility study was conducted by MFDB Architects, Inc., of Sacramento, which found building an 8,000-square-foot firehouse on the property off of Indian Hill Road owned by R&S Properties would cost an estimated $3.7 million. More than $900,000 of that cost falls on street improvements and site development.

The study also examined the property off of Glenview Road owned by R & S Properties. Two potential plans for that site landed the cost estimate between $3.1 and $3.2 million.

"It's going to be more than what we had anticipated and what we can afford, but that's the purpose of a feasibility study," Lewis said.

Proponents of Measure B say the tax will raise $299,000 annually. Forty percent has been set to go toward paying debts on the new fire station, 40 percent for raises and benefits and 20 percent for operating costs.

Measure K proponents say their tax package will raise almost $900,000 in three years.

Representatives from MFDB Architects recently reported findings on the property at a meeting on Oct. 11.

According to a proposal for supplemental services from the firm, the feasibility study on the Indian Hill Road property along with an alternate site on Glenview Road cost $4,500. The presentation on the first phase to the board would cost $1,450, totaling in $5,950.

Elliot Rose, a developer with R&S Properties, said building at the site on Indian Hill Road next to the CHP is possible, but expensive. Rose offered the property to the fire protection district on a 40-year lease at $100 per month.

"I've been in building and development for 40 years and have found that you can build anything on any piece of dirt you can find, but there is always a cost factor," Rose said.

The feasibility study lists one of the costs of developing the Indian Hill Road site as installing 700 feet of 12-inch waterline, blasting a granite knob nearby and filling a ravine.

Rose bristled at the question of whether developing the currently barren property would only benefit his company in the future.

"If they did some fact checking on the site they would figure out that the CHP and Daily Grind are there. How would they both be there without utilities?" Rose said.

More than a decade of property search

The high cost of using the land offered by Rose and R&S Properties is not the first bump in the road for the Newcastle Fire Protection District.

Bob Stearns, vice chairman of the board, said the search for a piece of property has been ongoing for years even by boards before him and anywhere between 15 and 20 parcels have been examined.

The property off of Glenview Road has potential, according to Stearns and Rose. It too is owned by R&S Properties, but further studies must be conducted on it after the election.

Another property off of Newcastle Road and Glenview Road was also recently examined, but a disagreement among property owners prevented the district from purchasing it, according to Stearns.

There were also three properties off of Taylor Road that were considered, all with their own issues. One dealt with another dispute among owners, another had contaminated soil and still another was located in a wetland. Other properties off of Highway 193 were discarded over the years, as was a piece of property totaling in 8 acres off of Indian Hill Road that was landlocked by another property owner.

Stearns said a piece of property where Monroe Transmission is currently located off of Old State Highway was also considered, but the building there would have needed too much work.

That is just a snapshot of the properties observed by the fire board over the years. Stearns said while the board will not take any more action on potential properties until after the election, Mike Emmert, a site seer, has volunteered to investigate possible locations for the firehouse, including the Glenview property.

"We went through the list and he grouped them into portions and he's going to give us his evaluation of what he feels would be the right spot," Stearns said.

Property owner feels shunned by board

A. Jerald Saladana, property owner and longtime Newcastle resident, said he offered the board a piece of land between westbound Interstate 80 and Old State Highway for the fire station in May 2011.

He has not been thrilled by the board's response to his donation. A letter to Saladana dated Sept. 29, 2011 from Stearns, who was board chairman at the time, states though the site is "technically ‘developable'" the amount of money and time it would take to do so would be too much.

"The fire district does not have an abundance of either," the letter reads.

Saladana's offer came with stipulations, including the district work through a Realtor specified by him and a plaque recognizing the Saladana family be placed at the new station. Saladana said he went as far as taking care of the title and escrow process with Placer County.

"Yet (the board) chose to ignore it," Saladana said.

Both Lewis and Stearns confirm that they met with a representative of the California Department of Transportation about the property Saladana offered the district and said there were plans to build a retaining wall nearby.

"Just to file the paperwork to go through Cal Trans would take an excessive amount of time, and we've been under the gun to find a location for too long already," Stearns said.

Rochelle Jenkins, spokesperson for Cal Trans, said the board met with an encroachment permit official at the Saladana property around six months ago. She would not name the official, but said a feasibility study and an encroachment permit would have to be obtained through Cal Trans before the board could consider placing a building next to Interstate 80.

"Cal Trans has not said no, but we cannot make a determination until an engineer states what you want to do, how you want to do it, how it impacts the state highway system and the powers that be submit the proper encroachment permit request," Jenkins said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.