Fire officials concerned over growth in northern part of county
By Eve Modzelewski staff writer
August 21, 2003

ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- With the potential for more than 2,300 new homes in the north county, fire district officials say their single station in the Lakewood Park area won't be enough to serve residents there.

Five new developments have been proposed for the area north of Indrio Road, and if all of them are approved by the County Commission the combined impact could be costly for the St. Lucie County Fire District, Capt. Buddy Emerson said Wednesday during a presentation to fire board commissioners.

So far, the county has approved only one of those developments: Portofino Shores. The gated community across from Lakewood Park will have 519 single-family homes when completed. It's under construction now and should build out within the next two years.

The other four -- Emerson Estates, Johnston Lakes Estates, Emerson Green and Coconut Cove -- are under review by county planners. If the County Commission approves them, they would add another 1,862 homes to the area, including multi-family units.

"Portofino Shores was the first. I'm throwing all these others out there to show you what we're facing if they become a reality," said Emerson, adding he is not related to any of the developments.

"Growth as we've seen it in the southern county is beginning to spread north," he said.

Fire Station 7 now serves 3,800 homes in Lakewood Park and the surrounding areas. It's half the size of the brand-new Station 13 expected to open this weekend on Becker Road in Port St. Lucie.

If all five developments are built in the north county, the fire district expects Station No. 7 would respond to 800 more rescue calls a year.

Impact fees levied on the new homes would generate a total of about $571,000, which might pay for half the construction costs of building a new fire station, Capt. Nate Spera said. It would cost almost $1.5 million to staff a new station.

Given the expected shortfall, Fire Chief Jay Sizemore said the district would prefer to operate a second company, with one fire engine and two rescue trucks, out of the existing Station 7. But he and others recommended that fire board members start looking ahead to how the district would cover the costs of continuing growth in the north county.

"I think we know there's needs out there," Sizemore said. "We just have to find a way to meet those needs."

Prompted by all the interest north of Indrio Road, the county plans to hold a public planning forum to determine how much development should be allowed and how to provide services to the area.

In other action, the fire board:

* Approved a new three-year clerk-treasurer contract with Gary Perdew, the county's principal budget analyst. The board agreed to let Perdew remain in his county position until December, when he will become vested in the state retirement program.

* Agreed to start planning a new maintenance and purchasing facility for west of 35th Street on property owned by Indian River Community College.


- eve.modzelewski@scripps.com