City Politics: New Fire Station Erupts in Controversy
Written by: Mark Clancey
Sex, lies and video streaming — starring the City Commission and residents who oppose a new fire station design and 60’ height variance. Tempers flared as last week’s Commission meeting progressed, then digressed into the bizarre and ludicrous. The mayor acknowledged that the process for choosing a design and approving a height variance for the brand new Fire Station #1 was, indeed, “streamlined.”
First up on the agenda was to approve either the “mid-century modern” or “Key West” design concepts drawn up by the architect-consultant in artist renderings. This citizen cautioned the Commission not to take the results of a planning “charrette” (architecture pow-wow), a mere two nights earlier, as a mandate. On social media public opinion was running dramatically opposite to the 112/45 vote count. Online commenters favored, hands down, the Key West cottage style over the 1950’s era design favored by City Hall.
Defensive, one of the commissioners criticized my suggestion of conducting a survey to poll the roughly 2,000 recipients of the City’s newsletter, thereby engaging a much larger audience than the 157 charretteers. The irritated commissioner claimed a survey would “not be anywhere near as credible as the people that showed up the other night.” He said it would be impossible to know if the respondents were legitimate residents and property owners. Yet at the charrette, no one asked for my papers.
The next morning, in a stroke of astonishing irony, all city newsletter subscribers received in their inboxes — you guessed it — a survey from City Hall! Hosted on Survey Monkey, it asked respondents to answer a series of well crafted questions designed to build support for City Hall’s marketing and promotion plans.
Sexual innuendo entered the debate as a former mayor claimed that allowing a 60’ high station would give firefighters a peek into the backyards of residents on Sunset Drive where they might “ogle” sunbathers, prompting sarcastic laughter from the firefighter wing of the room. A few minutes later the commissioner who had ridiculed the survey idea shot to his feet, stood erect, and pledged allegiance to the firefighters. Scowling at an opponent of the height variance — a taxpaying resident of Sunset Drive — the commissioner shouted at her that she wouldn’t even think twice if a female was in distress and the firefighters “ripped open” her blouse! The room went awkwardly silent.
A predictable and well-worn lie, that the new fire station has been in the planning stages for “10-15 years,” was repeated by proponents. The truth: A previous city administration purchased expensive frontage property on the corner of S. Orlando and 1st Street South, next to the existing fire station some years ago, only to learn that the State of Florida would not certify a firehouse there due to a turning radius problem. The newly proposed location — directly across the street next to the laundromat — has been around for a couple of years, but only formalized into a site plan this past week. More like 7 days.
Video streaming of the meeting can be found on the City’s website, but requires enormous patience given the old viewing technology. The new fire station agenda item begins at roughly 53 minutes into the City Commission meeting. Better yet, subscribe to Cocoa Beach Network News at www.cityofcocoabeach.com/subscribe and come out to the two public hearings coming up soon. Better leave the children at home.