A town hall meeting at Village Hall on Dec. 11 was the latest stage in an ongoing effort to bring a new fire station to the northeast side of Palmetto Bay. Roughly 40 people attended the meeting that ran from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The site in question is part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Subtropical Horticulture Research Station located at 13601 Old Cutler Rd., next to the USDA administration building. Since there are no fire stations close to that area, response time to 9-1-1 calls from that area can be eight minutes or longer.
“We have no coverage on the east side of the village,” Mayor Shelley Stanczyk said during and interview the next day. “It’s something that’s important for two municipalities in terms of service and the people who live in the surrounding area, because we’re only served by the one at [SW] 152nd [Street] and down by Village Hall. Those are really far west.”
During a previous meeting Fire Chief Downey had explained the protocol for stations in residential areas. Mayor Stanczyk was glad that the latest meeting was well attended.
“One lady had a very poignant story about the fact that she felt that her husband failed to survive, or at least was complicated, by the fact that fire rescue was so late in showing up when her husband had a fatal heart attack,” Stanczyk said.
Stanczyk said that there also was a man from a group called the Friends of Chapman Field, which has been opposing the USDA site.
“We spoke to him afterwards, but we were never given the opportunity to engage with them on what their ideas were,” Stanczyk said. “They’ve been very actively lobbying against the project.”
She said that two representatives from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ross-Lehtinen’s office had met with the USDA, as had the Fire Department. Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner also had gone out to look at the site.
“This is a Fire Department project; it is not a local municipality project,” Stanczyk said. “However, it’s my drive to bring adequate services to our village.”
Scott Mendelsberg, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, explained their status on the project.
“Right now we’re looking at the high acreage, and the USDA is trying to figure out where we could go,” Mendelsberg said. “Congress — the House and the Senate — have to pass a bill to allow us to proceed. It is one of three or four different locations that we’re looking at in the south Pinecrest/north Palmetto Bay area because we do have a response time problem.”
Mendelsberg said that while they don’t want to rule out the USDA location, it’s only a first step to getting the ability to study where they would put a fire station.
“It’s very premature and it would take a lot more government approval,” Mendelsberg said. “Congresswoman Ileana Ross-Lehtinen sponsored this. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart sponsored it before when he held that seat. It had actually passed the House of Representatives and we thought we had a good shot at getting it past the Senate this year when there were some people from Kings Bay in Coral Gables that notified the congresswoman that they were opposed to it.”
Mendelsberg said that Rep. Ross- Lehtinen was unaware there was any opposition to it, so she requested that the Fire Department meet with some of the surrounding homeowners associations and residents of both communities and explain to them what they were doing and see if they could get those who supported the fire station to be as vocal as those that were opposed to using any part of the USDA property.
“This was a public meeting to try and gather some feedback and support from the community, to let them know that if the congresswoman is going to be able to support this she needs to hear from you,” Mendelsberg said.
“There were a lot of people there who had response time issues for their relatives, their friends, and just wanted to reinforce the need for a fire station somewhere in that general vicinity. Station 4 is at 152nd Street and US1 and Station 55 is way down on 220th Street and 87th Avenue in Saga Bay,” he addd. “We have a real problem on the eastern corridor of Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay and we’re trying to get something over there.” Mendelsberg said they have been looking at Florida Power and Light’s Old Cutler power station that is up for sale, as well as part of the Palmetto Bay Village Center property.
“So we’re trying to get a site so we can put a fire station in as soon as possible,” Mendelsberg said. “If we had our choice to drop it in anywhere we want, we would, but with the real estate market down there, land is expensive and it’s coveted. We’re going to buy the first piece of property that becomes available in that area, but we may need two, depending on where it’s located.”
Letters to supporting a fire station may be sent to U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s Washington, DC, Office at 2206 Rayburn H.O.B., Washington, DC 20515-0918, or emailed through her website at https://ros-lehtinen.house.gov/.