Scott Lake feuds over fire station

The latest proposal to build a fire station in the Scott Lake community has bitterly divided the neighborhood's leadership.

Voters served by Littlerock Fire Rescue approved a $3.5 million capital bond in November 2005 to remodel and construct fire stations and buy property and equipment. The fire protection district earmarked about $1 million to make improvements to its Scott Lake substation to provide around-the-clock staffing and improve response times.

The bond also paid for the construction of a new Maytown fire station at its same location, which is near completion, and a storage area for emergency equipment. Its proceeds also bought two new fire engines, a water truck and a medical aid unit. There’s also money for the district to purchase property for a future fire station.

Starting today, Littlerock formally consolidates with the Grand Mound-Rochester fire district to form the West Thurston Regional Fire Authority. Voters approved the move in August.

However, the district has been unable to move forward with land-use approval for the Scott Lake station because its three earlier development proposals grappled with potential flooding or encountered resistance by Thurston County planners because they don’t comply with development regulations, Fire Chief Russ Kaleiwahea said.

A plan was floated for a dollar-for-dollar land swap with the community’s board of trustees to allow construction of the fire station on a portion of one of its parks that doesn’t have flooding issues. The existing fire station is next to the park, located near the corner of Scott Creek Drive Southwest and Trevue Avenue Southwest.

During a contentious Nov. 9 meeting the board voted 4-3 to approve the land swap in concept, with board President Dave Fjosee casting the tie-breaking vote. The board will need to take a future vote once the details of the swap are worked out, including how much land is needed and its value, Fjosee said in an interview.

Detractors vowed to fight the proposal. They say they support the fire district but characterized the proposed swap as a land grab railroaded by Fjosee and board supporters, who they say are friendly with employees of the fire district.

“Dave is voting for the fire department instead of the landowners of Scott Lake,” said Gideon Israel, a longtime resident who suggests the fight could end up in a courtroom.

The Scott Lake community has about 600 homes located next to its namesake body of water three miles south of Tumwater. Homeowners pay dues to the Scott Lake Maintenance Co., which owns and maintains the two parks and owns the water system. The board sets policy for the maintenance company.

Opponents say the proposal would relocate and shrink the ballfield at the park and leave no room for development of the nearby community center.

“It would be giving it away and saving nothing for ourselves,” said Tammy Fromm, whose husband, Ken, serves on the board and who flies kites with her 5-year-old granddaughter at the park.

They contend that neither the land deed for the park nor the capital bond measure allow for such a transaction.

Richard Clifford, one of the community’s original developers, deeded the property to the company “with the understanding that the property will be used only as a park,” according to a copy of the quit claim deed. Clifford amended the deed to add the clause nine years after it was filed in 1966, records show.

The explanatory statement attached to the bond measure notes that some of the proceeds will be used to “upgrade the Scott Lake Fire Station.” Opponents interpret that to mean it must be remodeled or redeveloped at the same location. And they add that the area already enjoys good response times from neighboring stations.

“They (the district) want the big, fancy building,” Ken Fromm said. “They don’t need it.”

Fjosee said the proposal put before the board would deliver on the election’s promise of a manned fire station. Voters in the community approved the bond by a wide margin. He added he would lead the fight if the land was going to anything other than a fire or police station.

He said he was longtime friends with one of the fire commissioners, Jerry Strong, and had discussions with him about the fire station. But he said that relationship hasn’t prompted him to put the interests of the district before the interests of the community he represents.

“If something is not good for this community, I’m not going to be for it,” he said. “The community has to be the winner in this, in my mind. I’d like to have a fire station.”

Fjorsee said he checked with attorneys who concluded the amendment on the land deed isn’t enforceable because Clifford gave up his interest in the property when he signed the original document and didn’t have the authority to come back and amend it.

As for the bond language, Kaleiwahea said the ballot title, which summarized the intent of the bonds, authorized the district to issue them to buy equipment and property and “construct, remodel and equip new and existing fire stations.” He said that language gives the district the flexibility to use the proceeds to build a new station at another location.

He said a manned station at Scott Lake would not only improve emergency response times in the immediate vicinity but also in areas outside the community during times when another area’s primary unit is responding to a call.

And he noted the opponents are getting ahead of themselves as Thurston County still has to give the go-ahead.

If the county government gives a favorable response during a presubmission conference, the district would need to file for a special-use permit for the project to move forward. The land-use process involves a public hearing before a hearing examiner where concerns could be aired, Kaleiwahea said.

If unsuccessful, the district would look at properties outside the Scott Lake community, although the goal is to build a fire station within it, he said.

“The easy thing would be to come to a hurdle and go and acquire property outside of Scott Lake. We are doing what we believe the majority (of voters) want us to do. That is develop a station in the Scott Lake area,” the fire chief said.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427