Proposed new fire house

Rendition of proposed Monarch Fire Protection District fire house 2 at 18304 Wild Horse Creek Road in Wildwood. (Source: Monarch FPD)

On Jan.13, the Monarch Fire Protection District filed a petition for declaratory judgment and preliminary and permanent injunction against the city of Wildwood regarding the proposed new fire station at 18304 Wild Horse Creek Road.

Monarch purchased the property with plans to build a new 12,000-square-foot firehouse with storage for fire apparatus and 24/7 crew-occupied living quarters to replace the current Fire House 2 at 18424 Wild Horse Creek, built in 1970.

The fire district has maintained that it needs to move from the current site about a half-mile west of the new location, as the current house does not have the necessary space, infrastructure or utility to provide for an ambulance. In addition, the city requires a minimum of 2 acres to build a new fire station and the current site is just 1.2 acres.

Although the Wildwood Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) voted to deny a conditional use permit (CUP) last March, the City Council exercised its Power of Review and held a public hearing to review that decision in April. Initially overturning P&Z’s recommendation by a vote of 14-1, the council backtracked due to concerns about traffic delays and response times, and instead of voting for approval, opted to require a traffic study. When the fire district commissioned a traffic study, the city hired the Lochmueller Group to review that study and found that it satisfactorily addressed just two of the five criteria set forth by the council. 

However, in May, Monarch Fire Board director Rick Gans wrote a letter to the city stating that the fire district intended to move forward with construction of the facility at 18304 Wild Horse Creek. He noted that compliance with National Fire Protection Association standards and response times and all other standards related to public safety that include fire, rescue and EMS services, are under the purview of the Monarch Fire Protection District and its elected officials.

The city responded that it is required by ordinance to issue building, grading and other permits for the new location, and that those permits can only lawfully be done once the CUP’s conditions are satisfied, including a traffic study. The response also noted that fire and emergency services must be sure that all required permits and approvals can be obtained before purchasing a site.

According to a petition filed by attorney Mathew Hoffman, of Hoffman & Slocomb, on behalf of Monarch, "The district has made extensive efforts to work with the city of Wildwood, the Architecture Review Board and the Planning & Zoning Commission regarding the construction of new Fire House 2."

In addition, Hoffman noted that the district made several changes to its original design for Fire Station #2 at its expense, in an effort to improve the process with the city of Wildwood and to satisfy the parties involved. Thereafter, the city delayed approval of the demo permit for the single-family home located at 18304.

According to the fire district, in October, a city inspector ordered employees of an engineering firm to stop all soil testing and to leave the worksite. Despite the limited soil testing involved, the city required the district to obtain a grading and excavation permit. The district also alleged that a site development plan submitted to the Department of Planning months ago has yet to be approved.

On June 2, 2020, voters overwhelming approved Proposition F, in part to replace Fire House 2. However, the district only has three years from the bond approval date to spend 85% of the bond funds, which is causing serious concern related to the delays caused by the city of Wildwood, Hoffman said in the petition.

"Despite the timing issues involved regarding the bond funds … the city of Wildwood continues to change the conditions and requirements in an effort to obstruct the construction of new Fire House 2," Hoffman wrote. "Further, the continued delays caused by the defendant have caused the Monarch Fire Protection District to incur substantial financial damages and plaintiff will continue to incur financial damages."

The fire district is seeking an order from the court that it can construct a new fire house at 18304 Wild Horse Creek Road without the approval of the city, for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, for costs and expenses, including attorney fees, and for such other relief as the court deems just.

At the Jan. 10 city council meeting, Mayor Jim Bowlin said that over the last several weeks, subsequent to the CUP process that they agreed to participate in, there have been a few instances where the city has had to step in because of violations that were occurring such as removing trees without permission. Those were remedied and then later, he learned that the fire district said they were going to sue the city because they want to put their fire station in immediately and don't want to deal with the process, he said.

"While I greatly respect every single first responder, including everyone in that department, I found that to be extremely disappointing, and frankly, inconsistent with working together as neighbors," Bowlin said. "From my perspective, I think we've simply been doing our job, which we should continue to do for our residents."

Bowlin said a last-ditch effort was made by the city attorney to reach out to the fire district to find some common ground to avoid a lawsuit.  

"But at the end of the day, we certainly have to do what we were elected to do and that is to look after our residents," he said.