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Voters Reject Chappaqua Firehouse Expansion, Land Purchase

Long lines were reported at Tuesday's referendum on the proposed Chappaqua firehouse expansion, which was rejected by voters.
Long lines were reported at Tuesday's referendum on the proposed Chappaqua firehouse expansion, which was rejected by voters. Photo Credit: Maggie Christ
Long lines were reported at Tuesday's referendum on the proposed Chappaqua firehouse expansion, which was rejected by voters.
Long lines were reported at Tuesday's referendum on the proposed Chappaqua firehouse expansion, which was rejected by voters. Photo Credit: Maggie Christ

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Chappaqua residents voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to reject the proposed expansion of the Bedford Road firehouse, along with a related purchase of an animal hospital property next door that is needed for the project.

Results show that the proposition for the firehouse expansion was rejected by a lopsided margin, with 632 voting against it to just 105 voting in favor. Fifty-nine ballots were either blank or void, with 796 cast in total.

The proposition for the land purchase, which asks voters to authorize spending roughly $2.6 million, was defeated with 420 votes against to 302 votes in favor. Fifty-nine ballots were blank or void, while 781 total votes were cast.

The rejection of the land-purchase proposition puts New Castle Fire District No. 1, the taxing entity that governs the Chappaqua Fire Department, in an uncertain position, as its contract with the animal hospital's ownership to acquire the property is coming up on an expiration date. It is not clear whether the ownership will extend the agreement in some form or if it will list the property on the market to seek another buyer.

Chris Weddle, chair of the district's board of fire commissioners, was present for the counting of the ballots, which was done by hand and by several people. However, he left before Daily Voice could get comment on the outcome.

The outcome marked the end of a tumultuous election night, as residents waited in long lines for a 3-hour voting window. Residents who made it to the firehouse to vote, but who were stuck in lines when polls closed, were allowed to cast their votes; the queue was finally finished at around 10 p.m. and the hand count of ballots was completed around midnight.

The voting window, which ran from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., drew frustration from community members; some reported hour-long waits and/or having to leave.

Among those was Will Fahey, who had to leave after an hour-long wait because his kids were being watched by a babysitter.

“That's not the way I would imagine an election being run, where you have to come home at nine o' clock and see an hour wait," he said.

Fahey, reacting to the 3-hour window, added, "it doesn't feel to me like a democratic voting process.”

"It took an hour and 15 minutes to get out," resident Maggie Christ told Daily Voice.

The fire district was following the state's legal minimum for voting hours. However, the board could have decided to voluntarily hold a longer voting day, so long as the hours were held consecutively. Weddle, at a public session earlier this month, explained that election workers were unavailable in time, and that postponing the date to allow for longer hours would have risked running up against the expiration of the land purchase contract.

Jennifer Mebes Flagg, co-president of the local League of Women Voters, disputes Weddle's contention, arguing that the district was approached with an offer of help.

"The New Castle League requested that the Fire Commissioners approve longer hours and offered to help find election inspectors," she wrote in a post to a local Facebook group (with permission to include in this article). "The Fire Commissioners did not accept our offer and were not willing to extend the hours. Based on reports we have heard this evening from voters about unclear instructions, disorganized lines, and problems with the ballots, Sheila and I (co-presidents of the League) are appalled at the ​chaos ​and lack of organization with this vote."

The defeated expansion proposal involved adding a large addition on the current animal hospital site. The firehouse's size would go from the existing 13,373 square feet to 29,899 as a result. However, the district intended to sell is oldest building, a 1920s firehouse on Senter Street, to help pay for some of the cost. The Senter Street firehouse currently houses an antique firetruck and fitness space, both of which would have been added to the enlarged firehouse.

The Bedford Road firehouse was first built in the 1950s and had a major addition in the 1970s, it has has been previously noted. The proposed expansion was sought in order to fit newer (but larger) firetrucks, which the oldest bays cannot do. Firetrucks have grown in size over the years due to safety and emissions regulations, the district's architect, Bob Mitchell, noted at a recent public session. The expansion was also being sought in order to get sufficient space for firefighters walking between the newer trucks, for decontamination room and for storage of modern tools.

The addition also included three drive-through bays with entrances off of Memorial Drive and exits onto King Street (Route 120). The current five bays, which only face out onto King Street, have been cited for posing safety problems because firefighters need to stop oncoming traffic in order to back firetrucks into the station.

The project's total cost was placed by the district at around $15.3 million and the intent was to complete the expansion by summer of 2018.

The proposal was criticized by some residents who had concerns ranging from its size to price; some argued that the district did not properly account for all costs related to the project.

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