At the end of the November, City Administration announced a plan to purchase a vacant property in the 900 block of Penn Street and begin construction of 2 fire stations for Downtown and the Northeast. The south-side of 900 block of Penn Street had previously been involved in a 3 alarm fire back in February of 2007 (video). The buildings were razed, and the lot remained empty for years before being acquired by the Reading Redevelopment Authority. The area was in the news back in 2016 when a bicycle track was constructed for children to ride safely. After various legal and safety concerns began to rise, the track was cleared and the city began to consider alternative ideas for the property.
Early in 2017, city leaders met with fire department officials to review the current state of fire stations within the city. With a lack of maintenance over many years, the buildings were in various states of disrepair. A plan was formed to begin the process of closing some of the buildings and consolidating 3 stations into 1. The land in the 900 block has been eyed with the space and ability to respond into East Reading by way of Penn Street/Perkiomen Avenue. On December 18th, the City Council voted to purchase a property adjacent to a lot the city had purchased previously. Before voting on the purchase, council members began to second guess the placing a fire station on the Penn Street corridor. Several members of council agree the stations need to be replaced, but would rather see tax-generating businesses operating on the parcel.
Out in the Northeast, the fire station at 9th & Marion Streets has been in need of repairs for years. The building dates back to the horse-drawn era of the late 1800's. Although the station had been rehabbed several times in its 100 year life, the last major project was done in the 1980's.
A decade ago the Fire Department approached the City with a plan to purchase a vacant lot in the 1000 block of Penn Street. Business owners from Dan's restaurant and Sylvia Christy Antiques vocally opposed the construction, citing the constant activity and noise would drive customers from the area. Neither business still operates in the city.
Excerpt from City Council Minutes - 12.18.2017
The managing director explained that the purchase of this property will enable the City to move forward with a new fire station in the 900 block of Penn Street, which will consolidate two (2) older stations that no longer meet the ISO regulations. He stated that after the acquisition is complete the City can move forward to do an RFP for a project manager.Councilor Daubert stated that he is struggling with this issue as he is unsure if the demolition of the property for a fire station is the best use of the property.
Council Reed agreed that a fire station is not the best use of this property that sits on the City’s main commercial corridor. She noted that while she understands the need for consolidation of the fire stations, this property should not come off the tax rolls.
Council President Waltman expressed the belief that Council approval will be required for other components such as the project manager, financing, etc.
Councilor Slifko questioned if the reuse for a fire station is written in stone Councilor Slifko expressed the belief that public meetings with affected residents should occur first. He moved to amend the ordinance to strike the words “for a fire station”.
Councilors Reed and Daubert stated that they would be more comfortable with this amendment.
The City Clerk reviewed the language in the ordinance and stated that the words “for a fire station” are not in the ordinance. The reference to the fire station is in the agenda memo and in the heading to describe the ordinance.
Councilor Slifko withdrew the motion to amend.