Plans for land slated for a future fire station in North Naples are still up in the air, even after the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District board voted to sell the property in October.
Originally, the board unanimously authorized Chairman Chris Lombardo to negotiate a contract to buy the 9 acres on Yarberry Lane, off Orange Blossom Drive, on Feb. 8. The district bought the land April 18 for almost $2.9 million.
The purpose was to build a fire station and emergency services facility in cooperation with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Collier Emergency Medical Services.
The property, in a residential area, would need to be rezoned by Collier County for a fire station to be built there.
However, some residents who live on or near Orange Blossom Drive have said they don’t want to see a fire station built on the property. They think it would increase traffic and noise in the area, said John Garbo, president of the Orange Blossom-Pine Ridge Community Alliance, which represents all of the homeowners associations on or adjacent to Orange Blossom Drive.
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Garbo said there was a lot of “misinformation” about what exactly the fire district wanted to build on the property.
“There were a couple plans that showed this massive government complex with a large parking structure and big buildings,” Garbo said.
Lombardo said that plan was never a viable option but instead was intended to show the maximum use of the property. He conceded that the district should have done a better job communicating with the community about the plans.
On Oct. 10, the fire commission voted unanimously to sell the Yarberry Lane property after an updated market analysis and property appraisal.
“We listened to the people and decided to sell it,” Fire Commissioner Jim Burke said. “They were very well pleased with the decision.”
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Lombardo said the fire commission won’t sell the property at a loss, if plans to sell move forward.
Discussion around the Yarberry Lane property continued at a fire commission meeting Wednesday, when the future of the property became hazy.
“I appreciate the fact that residents don’t like this location, but I think they will be more upset when our response times start increasing,” Lombardo said.
As development continues in the Orange Blossom Drive area, Lombardo said, the fire district will need a nearby fire station sooner rather than later.
“If we don’t do something, and something soon, your residents are going to be complaining to us because we will be getting close to a 15-minute response time to get to homes in the area, which is totally unacceptable,” Lombardo said.
The fire commission should move slowly with the decision on what to do with the Yarberry Lane property, Lombardo said.
He suggested the fire district and other stakeholders could find a plan that could work for everyone and still include building a fire station.
“We still maintain the position that we don’t want to see a firehouse there or a government complex,” Garbo said at Wednesday’s meeting.
However, Garbo said the neighborhood alliance will not shoot down all of the fire district’s ideas for a new fire station near Orange Blossom Drive.
“We are not here to say no to everything, and we want to be part of the solution,” Garbo said. “Part of the solution may be helping to find an alternative piece of property, and we’ve had people working on that.”
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The fire commission did not take any formal action regarding the Yarberry Lane property Wednesday.
“I’m not telling you we aren’t going to sell the property,” Lombardo said. “I’m just telling you we don’t have to sell the property right now. We can have a conversation and make a non-emotional, logical decision.”
The fire commission will change how it buys property to ensure more community input throughout the process, Burke said.
There are some locations the fire commission is looking at that could work as an alternative to the Yarberry Lane property, Burke said.
“The community wants to be part of the solution, and I’m not too sure I know what that means,” Burke said. “It’s a good sign, though.”