News and Tribune

November 6, 2013

New Albany fire tower gets zoning approval

Juliot: Training essential to firefighters’ safety


NEW ALBANY — Calls from adjoining property owners to build the facility at another location weren’t enough to sway the New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals from allowing a fire training tower to be built adjacent to Sam Peden Community Park.

By a 4-1 vote, the BZA OK’d a special exception on Tuesday permitting the structure — which will include a 40-foot high training tower — to be built behind the New Albany Fire Department’s Grant Line Road station.

A training tower had been located on the property until it was razed in 2006 due to the poor physical condition of the facility. But opponents of the location of the new tower said the facility is larger and more obtrusive than its predecessor.

“It’s not compatible with the neighborhood,” said Charles Brown, a developer who plans to construct a 154-unit apartment complex near the Grant Line fire house and close to the entrance of Community Park.

“To have fires lighted 150 feet from a residential apartment, in a park, is not good planning.”

But the closest apartment building would actually be more than 500 feet away from the tower, as the structure Brown referenced is actually a clubhouse, New Albany Fire Chief Matt Juliot said.

The tower will be more than 1,000 feet away from the closest house, and firefighters will burn propane for fires to cut down on safety risks as well as environmental concerns, Juliot continued.

“With building this, we ensure the city has the best trained firefighters possible,” Juliot said.

Proper training reduces injuries on the job and helps the department limit property losses and lower insurance rates by providing better service, he continued.

“This kind of training is essential for the safety of our firefighters,” Juliot said. “The only way to teach it is to do it.”

But it’s not the training facility but rather the location of the tower that stirred most of the debate.

Community Park is owned by Floyd County. County Attorney Rick Fox said the city has other locations, such as Cannon Acres off Budd Road, that would be better for the tower that have more space and aren’t surrounded by neighborhoods and a busy public park.

Though officials said the tower will be locked and fire personnel working the Grant Line Road station will keep a lookout for trespassers, Fox said he worries about people breaking into the structure.

“The thing is huge — it’s going to draw kids,” he said.

The city planning and zoning staff recommended the special exception be approved, though they did ask the fire department consider installing fencing around the tower for safety reasons.

The tower will be footed through a $5 million loan the city borrowed to also fund improvements to the Twin Oaks firehouse and to build a new station off Daisy Lane.

Juliot estimated the fire department will conduct live burn training 10 to 12 times a month at the tower. Though police officers will be invited to use the facility, he said they will not be permitted to shoot any kind of ammunition in the structure.