Newport Beach plans to buy a $4-million piece of land on Newport Boulevard to relocate its Lido-area fire station.
The City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to approve the purchase of a 17,693-square-foot — 0.4-acre — parcel at 2807 Newport Blvd. to build a firehouse to replace the aging, undersized facility at 475 32nd St.
“We’ve outgrown that fire station on 32nd Street,” Newport Beach Fire Chief Chip Duncan told the council. “We just cannot get the equipment in and out of there.”
Mayor Kevin Muldoon voted against the purchase in deference to neighbors’ nuisance concerns.
Dennis Halloran, who lives near the proposed firehouse site and is on his homeowners association’s noise committee, wanted the council to say no to the “McFire station,” a reference to the McDonald’s restaurant that most recently stood at the site.
“Putting a fire station next to $50 million worth of residences and businesses is not enhancing our quality of life,” Halloran said.
He said the 32nd Street site would be adequate with “a little imagination,” such as using repurposed shipping containers as buildings or using parking lifts to fit more employee cars.
Councilman Jeff Herdman, who lives less than a block from the fire station on Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, said sirens on the compact island are a nonissue. Trucks may sound an intermittent siren to alert people on the narrow avenue, he said.
“I think you’re worrying a little too much about a problem that probably won’t even exist,” he said.
The 32nd Street fire station was built in 1953 and sits on 11,612 square feet in a mixed-use area with limited onsite parking for fire personnel. Its garage cannot fit the ladder truck, fire engine and two ambulances assigned to the station all at one time, and with street access only from 32nd, it lacks a pull-through for the large ladder truck, requiring firefighters to stand on the street to pause traffic so the truck can back in, Duncan said.
The new site, about 0.3 miles away, can be accessed from three streets: 28th Street and both directions of Newport Boulevard, which runs in the area as one-way stretches separated by a short block.
The property’s owners, MNG Newport Beach, bought it last summer with plans to develop a shopping center but had not yet started building when city staff approached them earlier this year.
The McDonald’s that used to be on the site was approved in 1994 but did not install a speaker at the drive-through window, among other concessions to neighbors’ anxieties about noise, traffic and trash.
City Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis said staff approached MNG Newport Beach after seeing a for-lease sign on the property and negotiated a price. It had not been listed for sale.
The property will sell for more than the $3.5 million the city’s appraiser suggested, Jurjis said.
The city will begin an 18-month design and entitlement process, followed by 14 months of construction, making the station ready around mid-2020.
Early estimates put the cost of buying and developing a new site at $9.2 million total, while upgrading the 32nd Street parcel would cost about $8.6 million, according to a staff report.
During the design and entitlement phase, the city could convert the cleared lot on Newport Boulevard to paid public parking, which could be good for about $100,000 in revenue, according to the staff report.
Of the city’s seven other fire stations, only the one at 20401 Acacia St. in Santa Ana Heights is not close to homes. That station is about 600 feet from the closest houses.
Duncan said he knows sirens can be loud and intrusive, but often captains choose to not run the sirens, especially in the late night or early morning. But there are times when state vehicle code requires it, such as when firefighters need other vehicles to yield the right of way or if they have to pull into opposing traffic to get through quickly.
And Newport Beach has a long history of placing fire stations in residential areas, Duncan said.
“We want them there because that’s what we’re there to do is protect the people in the neighborhood,” he said.