CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- The fate of Bedford Road firehouse's longterm future in Chappaqua is now unclear following voters' rejection of a proposed expansion.
The uncertainty is compounded by the fact that a separate proposition to purchase the Chappaqua Animal Hospital property was also rejected, albeit by a considerably narrower margin.
Commissioners for New Castle Fire District No. 1, the taxing entity that governs the Chappaqua Fire Department, have no plans to immediately address the issues through a special meeting.
The commissioners' next regular meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 10 and start at 7 p.m. It will be held in the first-floor meeting room at the Bedford Road firehouse.
The fire district's contact with the site's owners to buy the property expires on Nov. 14, Board of Fire Commissioners Chair Chris Weddle told Daily Voice. The ownership informed the district over the summer that it would be willing to consider an extension, but on the condition that a monthly fee of about $10,000 is paid out. In an interview this week, Weddle was unsure about whether the offer still stands.
The proposed expansion, which involved building onto the animal hospital site, was intended to provide room for larger firetrucks, which have grown in size due to mandates for emissions and passenger safety. The addition would have included space to decontaminate and store firefighters' gear, as well as to bring the building into compliances with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The project, which cost north of $15 million, came under criticism from residents due to its size and price tag, which included going out to bond.
Fire commissioners also faced a backlash from voters because the referendum's voting window was only from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., which is the state's minimum requirement. Weddle argued that the minimum was adhered to due to a lack of available volunteers for a longer window; the local League of Women Voters disputes this assertion.
Residents, who waited in long lines at the firehouse, also complained about wait times exceeding an hour and/or having to leave due to childcare conflicts.
Fire commissioners will face the election accessibility issues again in December when elections will be held for two seats on the board. One election is for a new 5-year term to the seat currently held by Weddle, while the other is for the remaining three years of a term for the seat formerly held by Gerry Golub, who died last year. Golub's seat is temporarily being filled by Nancy Zezze, who is also the board's secretary.
While the three-hour window is the state's bare minimum, fire commissioners can voluntarily extend voting hours, so long as they are consecutive.
In an interview, Weddle expressed a willingness to consider a voluntary extension.
"I don't have any problem with that at all."
However, Weddle noted that he needs to have the same group of volunteers participate for the longer window. State law does not allow for volunteers to work in shifts or to hold non-consecutive voting hours, Weddle said. He also noted that once the commissioners put out their legal notice for the election - it will be held on Dec. 13, based on state law - then they cannot go back and do an extension.
Weddle was also open to holding district elections at a site other than the firehouse, such as at Robert E. Bell Middle School or at New Castle Town Hall. However, the ability to do so would depend on whether the town or the Chappaqua Central School District are willing to offer their spaces.
In future years, Weddle voiced support for changing state law so that fire districts can hire substitute volunteers.
Voting in the December elections will be restricted in one way, however, as the current commissioners recently voted to abolish the usage of absentee ballots. Tuesday's referendum on the expansion will be the last in which they were deployed.
Weddle defended the board's decision to eliminate absentee voting, arguing that the previous arrangement presented a way of "manipulating the system." Specifically, Weddle argued that people were using absentee voting merely out of arbitrary connivence than due to genuine lack of ability to show up in person.
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