Charlottesville’s plan to replace Fire Station No. 1 by McIntire Park off the U.S. 250 Bypass moved forward Monday night after City Council unanimously approved a critical slope waiver for the project.
It’s the second such waiver this year allowing a project to avoid the city’s own restrictions limiting construction on its protected hillsides.
The new metal-wrapped station is to be built facing the old brick station on the opposite side of the same unnamed stub access road. The city has budgeted $5.9 million for the project.
In his waiver application, senior project manager Scott Hendrix noted that the new station is being built on piers to minimize disturbance to the underlying slope. He also noted that the slope in question is believed to be man-made, constructed circa 1961 when the land was filled to create the access road.
Other reasons Hendrix cited for waiving the city’s ban against building on steep slopes are construction of an on-site water detention pond as well as the financial, land-preservation and tree-preservation benefits from reusing the bypass-accessible stub road and its parking spaces.
"This project provides thoughtful design to minimize negative impacts," Hendrix wrote in his waiver application.
The planned firehouse replacement will be a single-story structure with a sloping roof. Larger vehicle bays, an exercise room and a nine-bed dormitory will bring the size of the facility to 8,180 square feet. The old firehouse, totaling 3,465 square feet, will continue to operate during the construction.
The architect of the station is the Hughes Group of Sterling. The civil engineering firm on the project is the Timmons Group of Charlottesville.
Unlike the old station, which has its beds and kitchen above the vehicle bays, this one puts a wall between vehicles and humans to minimize the inhalation of chemical-laden air, a move made for the health of firefighters whose occupation already puts them at higher-than-average risk for lung and other respiratory problems, according to planners. The new structure also is to be LEED-certified and easily expandable, according to a report by city planner Dannan O’Connell.
At a Jan. 10 joint meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission and City Council, the planning commission voted 7-0 to recommend approving the waiver for the firehouse project. City Council found the plan so appealing that it placed the item on its Monday night consent agenda, the slate of items usually approved with a single vote and without debate.
City Council has a history of granting critical slope waivers. Since 2019, all 12 waiver requests that went to a City Council vote were met with approval, according to a recent vote and a city tally.
The most recent waiver was the hotly debated Jan. 3 approval of a ravine-filling residential development called Azalea Springs in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood. After the developer suggested that he had the right to develop a more forest-destructive complex of houses than the one he proposed, a divided City Council approved that project by a 3-2 vote.
Neither O’Connell nor Hendrix immediately responded to requests for comment from The Daily Progress on Monday.