One hour closed session held Tuesday night (April 13) to discuss potential price, alternative sites
Graham’s city council spent over an hour behind closed doors Tuesday night to discuss buying four parcels of land between Moore Street and Rogers Road for a second Graham fire station.
Graham officials have been talking about building a second fire station in the southern part of the city for about 20 years, and fire chief Tommy Cole recently upped the ante, by suggesting that the city now needs two fire substations – one in the southeastern part of the city and another in the southwestern area.
The site under discussion is close to one of the areas that Cole recently outlined to the city council for a southeastern satellite station. He had recommended satellite stations in the Rogers Road area, between Moore Street and the South Graham park area, and along East Harden Street (NC 54), between Ivey Road and near the city’s wastewater plant.
The parcels identified by the mayor prior to the closed session Tuesday night were three adjacent lots along Moore Street and a vacant lot on Rogers Road (1138 Rogers Road) that backs to one of the Moore Street lots.
All are owned by DDJS Properties, an LLC related to the late Sizemore brothers (Bill and Bud) who lived on Moore Street. The brothers ran Sizemore Lumber Company south of Graham for many years; it was subsequently sold to a Canadian company and now operates under the name Canfor Southern Pine.
The grandson of J.L. “Bud” Sizemore, Jr. now serves as president for the real estate investment companies.
The fire chief recommended satellite stations that would be about the size of Elon’s relatively new fire station, located on Powerline Road. Each would cost about $2.5 million to build, he told the council on March 4 when presenting his budget requests. Approximately $6.5 million was included in the proposed departmental budget request, to include land purchases, architectural fees, etc.
“We’re two years out,” he said, from being able to be in a new satellite fire station, he told the council at the time.
The city council went into a closed session for just over one hour under a provision of the Open Meetings Law that allows public bodies to go into closed session to instruct its agents on the price or negotiating position for acquiring land.
The Alamance News won a lawsuit in 2002 against Burlington’s city council, in which the courts agreed that before going into a closed session, a public body must identify the property being discussed, the purpose for which it is being considered, and the owner(s).
After returning from the closed session, mayor Peterman said that in addition to giving instructions on negotiating for the four parcels, the council had asked to evaluate the area in general, including other potential sites for a fire substation.
Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr., raised the question of what other locations were being considered. Peterman said those had not been discussed, but could the subject of future deliberations.
His comments prompted the publisher to “raise a concern. . . that being in closed session for that long, it’s hard to imagine that the conversation was restricted to giving your negotiating agents instructions. I fear that you would bound to have been going into other parts of discussion that should have been conducted in open session,” Boney said.
“You fear wrong,” the mayor responded.
“Whether there should be a station, where it should be, all of that should be done in the open session,” Boney told the council.
The mayor insisted that the alternatives were to determine whether we could “come up with a better station site.”
In a subsequent interview, the mayor described the four parcels as amounting to “just under two acres,” and elaborated that they would allow a “drive through” station with two entrances. Doing so, he elaborated, would allow fire trucks to enter from one direction, such as along Rogers Road, pull into a bay of the station, and then ultimately exit along Moore Street, as opposed to have to “back into the bays” from Moore Street, for instance.
At the current fire station at Graham’s city hall, for instance, fire trucks frequently have to pull out into West Pine Street, temporarily blocking traffic, and then back into a bay.
The mayor said that the properties are currently listed for sale for $225,000, but that an appraisal done for the city set the value at $146,000. Alamance County’s tax office said that the four properties, which were estimated to total 1.1 acres, are valued for property tax purposes at $96,500.
In addition to the four parcels, a fifth, also owned by the same LLC with about 3.4 acres – which was not listed as one the city was considering – has one of the Sizemore homes on it, but appears to be being prepped to be moved. Steel beams are in the yard, and holes have been knocked in the foundation of the brick house.
Local municipalities have typically assumed about 2 acres to be needed for a fire station. The Elon fire station cited by the Graham fire chief, however, is situated on 3.8 acres.