NORMAL — Normal will proceed with its plan to build a new fire station in northeast Normal despite concerns expressed by neighbors Monday.
The Normal City Council authorized City Manager Pam Reece to negotiate buying 1.75 acres at 1438 Hershey Road for a fire station to be built in 2020 or 2021 though some residents of the adjacent Blackstone Trails subdivision said they don't want a station in their backyards.
"Do the homeowners have a voice in this? Do we have a choice?" said Debbie Schroder, who said she lives only 86 feet from the edge of the site at Hershey and Shepard roads. "If we wanted to live in a commercial area, we would have built there, but we didn't. ... It's not fair to us as homeowners."
Schroder and three other residents told the council they're concerned property values will go down, they'll be awakened by emergency vehicles' sirens and that they were blindsided by the proposal, which was first publicly revealed Friday morning.
"The residents directly affected should also receive compensation, (and) residents deserve to see the proposed plans for the fire station and the neighborhood itself before any vote is taken," said neighbor Don Bird. "I request a continuance on this issue. ... This should not wait until after the deal is done."
Council members responded that the proposal is still very early in the process and will be the subject of multiple public hearings, including a Normal Planning Commission hearing as soon as Dec. 6.
"This is one of those things that can happen to undeveloped property," said council member Jeff Fritzen of the change in plans from more residences to a fire station at the corner. "We've got reassurance tonight it will be done in the least intrusive manner it can."
Officials said they're unsure what affect the development may have on property values, but multiple council members said they appreciate living near the College Avenue fire station. Fritzen said he appreciates being near first responders in case of a medical emergency.
Though officials said plans are still very preliminary, Fire Chief Mick Humer noted the station's vehicles likely would exit onto Hershey Road, as far from the subdivision as possible, and their sirens will be used sparingly to avoid bothering residents, as they are at the residential-adjacent Raab Road station.
Mayor Chris Koos suggested planning include consideration of a berm around the station to reduce residences' exposure to the site, and officials said additional plantings could help as well.
Council member Scott Preston said he's sympathetic to nearby homeowners who felt the plan came out of nowhere — it's part of a 2013 plan to relocate fire stations for improved response times, though no site had been revealed for the northeast station — and would like to see the town improve communication with residents.
"I would at least challenge us up here to find ways ... to provide information and seek input earlier than just when the council packet goes public (on Friday morning)," said Preston. "Any way that process can be elongated and more engaging with our residents."
In other business, the council signed off on the town's levy for property taxes payable next year. For the first time in more than a decade, residents can expect to pay less in property taxes to the town of Normal next year thanks to a flat levy and increased equalized assessed value.
Normal Township and Normal Public Library's levies are also expected to stay the same next year.