To this end the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District purchased a 1.24-acre lot on Stone Valley Road at Miranda Avenue in Alamo earlier this year to replace the 50-year-old Station 32 located half a mile west.
"Alamo has one fire station, and this new site is bull's-eye center," said Price. "It's at a controlled intersection ... and is an adequate size."
"When that site became available, it was a dream come true," he said.
But some of the new neighbors say it's a bad dream. They cite environmental and traffic concerns as well as financial. And they fear the negative impact on the worth of their homes.
"By necessity you have to be in a residential area, like schools are in residential areas," Price said. "There is nothing unique in this site in relation to the neighborhood."
"We're very concerned about traffic issues, trucks coming roaring out," said Nanci Wolske, who lives on Stone Valley Road next door to the fire station site. "We feel the existing fire station is perfectly adequate."
Nanci and Ed Wolske built their house a few years ago and have had it on the market for more than a year, before the Fire District bought the property next door. Now they fear it will be even harder to attract a buyer.
Nanci Wolske likens her back yard to a national park, with large oak trees and Stone Valley Creek attracting an abundance of wildlife. The former owner of the corner house cut down several old oak trees and she is concerned that those remaining will not survive a new large structure on the lot.
"The new fire station has nothing to do with improving public safety, it has to do with a newer, bigger, nice facility for the firefighters," reads an information sheet put out by the Wolskes. It also raises liability issues for students and foot traffic on Miranda Avenue.
Other stations are located near schools, said Price, and coping with concerns on Miranda are nothing new. "Even if it's 8:30 in the morning, emergency crews still have to go there," he said.
Neighbors also say that financing a large, modern fire station at this economically depressed time is irresponsible, especially since it is also building a Station 36 annex on Lusitano Street in Danville.
The cost of constructing the new Station 32 is estimated at $3.5 million, with plans to fund it through a combination of reserves, capital financing and other sources.
The Fire District has had a 9 percent cut in its budget, reported Chief Price, which is being dealt with across departments. But, he noted, the old Station 32 will be sold as will Fire District property at Hemme Avenue, which should account for half of the money needed for the new station. The district has also applied for $2.5 million in federal stimulus funds.
The original Station 32, built in 1958, had 2,547 square feet of living space and 1,190 square feet for fire engines and equipment. Fifty years ago, when Alamo's population was 1,700, it housed one firefighter, with the volunteer brigade responding to calls.
Station 32 began to provide ambulance services in the 1970s, said Assistant Fire Chief Steve Hart, who is in charge of planning future growth. Now it houses two fire companies, six firefighters, two engines, an ambulance and another engine primarily used for grass and brush fires.
"We've remodeled it twice," Hart said. "In 1991 was the last major remodel." Eight hundred feet have been added.
Station 32 is the smallest and the oldest of the 10 fire stations in the district. While recent growth has been in the southern end of the district, Price noted that Alamo residents also pay property taxes, which provide 96.5 percent of the annual $51.5 million district funding, and they should have a modern facility.
The district considered several options to serve Alamo. One plan called for two stations in different parts of the unincorporated area. Implementing this strategy, the district purchased property on Danville Boulevard at Hemme Avenue in December 2005 for $925,000, and began to look for a site on Livorna Road.
When this did not pan out, the district began to focus on the current Station 32 location, planning to tear down the outdated station and replace it. This was less than ideal, said Price, because the site is hemmed in by a hillside at the rear of the lot and Stone Valley Road in front. Also, the site is too small for a drive-through bay.
"Any time you're backing up or stopping traffic, it is not good," said Price. "You can't see west because the road curves. The crews nose out, and traffic is very fast. This takes 30 seconds longer and is a safety issue."
The plan was to relocate the firefighters and equipment to Stone Valley Middle School while construction was under way. This temporary move would have cost $750,000, said Price. Then fire crews spotted the 4-bedroom, 2-bath home for sale on Miranda and Stone Valley Road in December and alerted fire officials who quickly made an offer of $1.2 million to M. Poustinchian.
"We went to the San Ramon Valley Planning Commission to make sure there were no zoning issues with the General Plan and zoning district, then we purchased it," recalled Price. This "mandatory referral" is needed whenever a public agency acquires a piece of land.
When the neighbors heard about the purchase, they contacted District 3 County Supervisor Mary N. Piepho's office but were told that because it was in the early planning stages, they should take it up with the fire department.
The Fire District submitted its application in June to the county Department of Conservation and Development, said project planner Ruben Hernandez. "We are currently processing it," he said. "That means verifying compliance with zoning, compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, basically development standards."
After the application is deemed complete and reviewed for compliance, Hernandez said, it will receive an environment review, a staff report will be written, and it will be scheduled to go before a county Zoning Administrator. If the administrator gives the project the go-ahead but someone appeals it, the project will go before the County Planning Commission. If its decision is appealed, the project would go before the County Board of Supervisors.
Tiffany and Dan Haller moved from San Carlos to Alamo a year and a half ago when they found the perfect six-bedroom, four-bath home for their young family on Megan Court. They said they were distraught to learn that the lot behind them was purchased by the Fire District for a new station.
"We would never, ever have bought behind a fire station," said Tiffany Haller. "We asked our real estate agent, 'What do we do?' They all told us, 'You'll lose from 10-15 percent on your home.' If we had to sell, we would lose from $150,000-$200,000."
Alamo Realtor Nancy Combs agreed that the fire station would impact the sale of homes in the area.
"You're going to limit your market in terms of people who would be willing to live next to a fire station," she said. It will affect the price in a down market and in an up market, she noted.
The Hallers' first impulse was to put the house on the market, said Tiffany, but they decided to wait just in case somehow it does not get built. Meanwhile they are working with the fire department to mitigate the impacts of the new station for their sake or for future owners.
They had a study done by Wilson, Ihrig & Associates, acoustical and vibration consultants, which was paid for by the Fire District. Principal Pablo A. Daroux listed noise sources, including fire engines idling for long periods, revving up repeatedly, their sirens, horns and backup alarms; building mechanical support systems; the garage doors opening and closing; and conversations when personnel gathered outdoors.
"The acoustical engineer came up with suggestions but said some of the low vibrations are hard to get rid of," said Tiffany Haller. "He said the best thing we can do is soundproof our house."
Bob Deiss of ATI Architects & Engineers in Danville, who is the architect of record on this project, said vibrations will not be a problem.
"A fire truck doesn't vibrate any more than a small delivery truck," he said. "They are all on rubber tires. And the doors are quiet."
He noted that the location is already noisy, especially during heavy traffic times on Stone Valley Road and with vehicles stopping at the lights at Miranda Avenue.
"We are going to build sound walls along Stone Valley and along Miranda," Deiss said, "with berming up against the sound walls. ... the site development will actually cut the amount of noise."
Chief Price pointed out that the former owner was attempting to sell the property as two parcels.
"Neighbors aren't silent," Price said. "You can have neighbors with teens giving parties, or Harleys. Megan Court has leaf blowers. Two houses would have made much more noise."
"People always compare it to an empty lot," he added. "We're an outstanding neighbor. We're going to put in a first-rate beautiful facility."
The neighbors also worry about environmental impacts to Stone Valley Creek because they said there were plans to sink a retaining wall deep into the ground.
"That was never in the plans," said Architect Deiss. "We were looking at putting in a short retaining wall, one foot high and a foot or two into the ground."
This wall is no longer in the plans.
Neighbors also fear that the Fire District will be able to obtain a variance and not have to honor the setback from the creek observed by the homes along Stone Valley Road.
"The 50-foot setback will definitely be enforced," said civil engineer Monish Sen of the county Public Works Department. "The question is whether additional setback is required."
Deiss said that they moved the building further to the south to accommodate the setback, and that the size has been reduced by a few hundred square feet from the plans for 9,800 square feet.
"A fire station is a building that is functionally driven," explained Deiss, who has designed many such facilities, including Station 36 on Camino Tassajara and Lusitano. "It has a number of dorm rooms and apparatus that are present on the site. It has requirements for staff onsite with adjacent facilities, dining, exercise rooms, to accommodate staff requirements and needs.
"Then there are physical support spaces," he continued. "Janitor closets, offices, areas to greet the public. All of those things together work to develop the overall building size."
The former owner built up the land on the property to place the house on a rise, but this bump will be lowered, said Deiss, and the grade of the floor will be approximately 12 feet below the grade of the current building. The station will be one story, screened with vegetation and an attractive sound wall. Per the back neighbor's request, the driveway will be on the Stone Valley Road side. Vehicles will enter on Stone Valley Road and exit on Miranda.
"We're at the conceptual design of the project," said Deiss. "The whole purpose is to develop the design as you go along, to lay out the floor areas and room relationships, and develop the building from the inside out. Things are fluid until we get further along in the project."
As the design inches toward completion, he said, it becomes more functional and cost efficient, better for both the client and the public.
As for the location, Deiss stated that fire stations need to go in residential neighborhoods. "They need to be where the action is," he said. "We've done urban type stations as well as suburban; fire stations need to fit into the neighborhood they serve to keep the time of response down."
The station will fit in with the design of the adjacent homes on Stone Valley Road, he added, in keeping with the policy of the Fire District that stations blend in with the community to enhance the overall aesthetics.
"We try to go with the lightest footprint possible," said Price. "We're talking to the county every day - Public Works, Planning. A lot of agencies have to sign off on it."
"We've done everything we can to mitigate concerns, to study what could be done. We offered to pay for fencing. We want to have a good relationship," he added. "Let's say it does affect property values - do you sacrifice the well-being of the community?"