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County OKs zoning exception for volunteer fire stations, purchase of 4 acres for park in Lansdowne

The Baltimore County Council voted this week for a zoning change that would allow the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Department to build a new 16,000-square-foot station on Hollins Ferry Road. The council also voted July 3 to purchase 4.04 acres of land in Halethorpe to re-purpose into a passive park.

A bill introduced by County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents District 1 in the southwestern part of the county, amends permissible uses for land zoned “neighborhood commons” to include the construction of volunteer fire department stations. A neighborhood commons designation is used by the county to preserve open space.

The land for a new Lansdowne fire station is on Hollins Ferry Road across the street from Riverview Elementary School, according to Michael Sparks, president of the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Department.

“It’s a new home, it’s a place where we can actually gather and bring our families in,” Sparks said. “It’s bigger, it’s on a main road, so it’s easier for us to go to the calls.”

Sparks said the station, designed by Halethorpe-based Steel Building Specialists, will include 12 private bedrooms for volunteers working the overnight shift, a kitchen, a weight room and a space where community groups can gather and hold meetings or classes.

Sparks said the 3,500-square-foot community space was not a typical “hall” but a “community center.”

He added that the company has been fundraising for years to build a new fire station — the building was originally constructed in 1903, he said, and last had a major renovation in 1953.

Construction of a new facility, once permitting and other work is completed, is expected to take eight months and cost about $3.6 million, said Gary Cearfoss, founder and president of Steel Building Specialists.

Baltimore County plans to provide capital support to help the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Department in constructing the station.

“At this time the final project totals are not available, so Baltimore County’s contribution is not yet known,” Baltimore County Emergency Management Division Chief Jay Ringgold said in a statement.

Cearfoss said that his company in the past has built other pre-engineered fire stations, in which a standardized shell is adapted, in Anne Arundel and Harford counties. He called $3.6 million for a fire station a bargain. The fire station that was dedicated in Towson in 2016, for example, encompasses 19,700 square feet and cost $7.6 million.

He called the design a “new, fresh building” and said it would give the volunteers plenty of room for training.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the County Council voted to purchase 4.04 acres at 630 Washington Ave. in Lansdowne for $415,000. The money is coming from the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Program Open Space. More than 6,000 parks have been created or sustained using funds from Program Open Space, according to the DNR’s website.

The property, currently zoned to allow for 5.5 dwelling units per acre, will be purchased from Charles Gehringer, trustee of the Charles H. Gehringer Revocable Trust.

The land currently houses a 1,600-square foot, two-story home that the owner will demolish before the deal is settled. Currently, the county plans to maintain the plot of land as passive open space.

Quirk called the purchase a “big win” for residents and said that any future decisions, such as whether playground equipment should be purchased, ball fields constructed or if the property should be down-zoned, would have to include “the community around 100 percent supporting it.”

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