Proposed firehouse on Lindbergh raises neighbors’ concerns

Concerns about noise, traffic voiced by nearby residents.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Mehlville Fire Protection District’s proposed new firehouse along South Lindbergh Boulevard may negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood, several residents said last week.

The MFPD has asked St. Louis County to grant a conditional-use permit so it can build a new No. 3 firehouse on South Lindbergh Boulevard across from the Lindbergh High School campus.

But some of the proposed firehouse’s neighbors told the county Planning Commission last week the project would begin to commercialize the one stretch of South Lindbergh Boulevard between Sunset Hills and Interstate 255 that’s largely residential.

The fire district’s Board of Directors voted unanimously last July to spend $571,000 to purchase the 1.1-acre property at 4811 S. Lindbergh Blvd. from the Dominic and Margaret E. Intag Trust. The district has deposited $50,000 as a down payment for the property with the remainder of $521,000 due at closing, which is scheduled for Jan. 3. Under the terms of the agreement, the seller may maintain possession of the property until March 1.

The property is surrounded by St. Catherine Laboure Church and School to the south and west and by a single-family residence to the east. The area is zoned residential.

Eric Anderson, who owns the home to the east, told the commission at a public hearing Nov. 8 the new firehouse would “change the way this area looks and feels for the residents” and could decrease the value of surrounding properties.

“That’s truly one of the few sections of South Lindbergh that you come through where you still see full-grown trees and homes, and we feel this will be a bit of a domino effect if this occurs,” he said. “The landscape is changing, and this really we believe begins to go further away from a residential feel to more of a commercial feel.”

The proposed 8,000-square-foot firehouse would replace the existing No. 3 firehouse at 11625 Sappington Barracks Road, roughly 1,000 feet to the west. The existing firehouse was built in 1957, and district officials believe it’s time for it to be replaced.

Brandon Harp of Civil Engineering and Design Consultants, representing the MFPD, told commissioners there is an “immediate” need for the new facility.

“The existing site and building is dilapidated,” Harp said. “It’s falling over. It’s not big enough.”

The district chose to pursue the property at 4811 S. Lindbergh Blvd. for several reasons, Harp said.

“One is that the firehouses have to be within a certain radius of other fire (houses) and to meet the response time of the areas they’re serving,” he said. “So we have a quarter-mile or so radius of the existing house 3 that we have to search for properties to build this new facility.”

The district looked for properties along Sappington Road, South Lindbergh Boulevard and as far north as Gravois Road, Harp said. It came up with eight or nine possible site for the new firehouse, but in most cases the properties weren’t large enough or the owners didn’t want to sell, he said.

As proposed, the new No. 3 firehouse will be similar in design to the district’s No. 2 and No. 4 firehouses. The No. 2 firehouse was built last year at 5434 Telegraph Road, and construction is under way for the No. 4 firehouse at 13117 Tesson Ferry Road.

The new No. 3 firehouse also will include a training tower and a walkout basement. Harp said the training tower will be 57 feet high but will rise only 12 feet above the firehouse roof. Training will take place once or twice a month and will not involve any smoke or fire, he said.

The district conducted an informational meeting for area residents on the proposed firehouse earlier this month. Of the 133 people invited to the meeting, about 10 showed up, Harp said.

“For the most part the residents were positive and complimentary of the design and the development,” he said. “There were some concerns. One of the concerns was to make sure we provide enough landscaping between our only single-family residential neighbor to the east, which we’ve agreed to do that.”

Residents also asked the district to be conscious of the lighting around the firehouse, Harp said. The district plans to install low-level lighting as much as possible in the firehouse parking lot and use glare-reducing LED technology in its flashing fire signals, he said.

Still, Anderson said he and other residents believe the new facility will significantly change the surrounding landscape, especially with the removal of trees from the property. He also disputed Harp’s contention that the training tower wouldn’t be particularly noticeable.

“It’s not something that you’re going to be able to hide no matter how well you landscape or what you put up in front of it,” he said.

Anderson also contended training sessions at the firehouse would cause noise and increase traffic on South Lindbergh Boulevard. Traffic already is heavy in the area because of the high school and will increase further when Lindbergh Schools’ new Early Childhood Center opens on the high school campus, he said.

“From an emergency situation, I’m not sure if it’s the best location with what’s already going on in the area,” he said.

Thomas Egger, whose family in January moved from Clayton to a home on South Lindbergh Boulevard near the site of the proposed firehouse, echoed Anderson’s concerns about increased traffic volume.

“I really hope that you have the chance to drive down that part of Lindbergh at that time of day, at 7:30 in the morning, and ask yourself whether it would be a good idea to further complicate this situation,” Egger told the commission.

Harp responded that only a handful of employees would be working at the firehouse at one time. He reiterated that training sessions would be minimal.

Anderson in closing urged the district to find another location for its firehouse because the current proposal “doesn’t bode well for the neighborhood” in the long term.

“This is a residential area. If you drive it, that’s the feel you’re going to get,” Anderson said. “You go not very far to the west and you feel more of a commercial feel where their current firehouse is located. It has a different feel. There appears to be some other options available versus encroaching in on the residential area.”

Egger suggested the need for the new facility wasn’t as immediate as Harp indicated.

“We need firehouses. We appreciate the Mehlville fire department. They do great work. But I would propose we limp along for a bit longer until a more suitable property can be obtained,” he said.

At the end of the public hearing, 21 people raised their hands in favor of the district’s proposal and 20 people raised their hands who were opposed or had concerns.

The Planning Commission took no action on the CUP request last week. It will make its decision at a later executive session.