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Planning Board Approves Millwood Firehouse

The effort to build, years in the making, clear a major hurdle.

New Castle's Planning Board unanimously approved the proposed new Millwood Firehouse at Tuesday night's meeting.

Approval, which entailed greenlighting a site plan and a series of environmental permits, was not surprising. The board indicated at its last meeting in July It held off on taking a vote then because there were some technical questions regarding parking management, which in turn delayed a vote on an environmental findings statement. That statement was also approved Tuesday.

One new item was included in approval, however: getting the Town Board to sign off on an exemption request from its tree preservation law as a condition of the Planning Board's approval. The Town Board voted in December 2011 to exempt the district from "strict compliance" of the law, but the district intends to have more than two dozen new trees planted on site and to see aside money for future screening near the western property line.

"I think the board did a fantastic job," said Anthony Guardino, the fire district's attorney.

Richard Brownell, the Planning Board's chair, described the passage as a "momentous moment," both for the Millwood hamlet and for New Castle in general.

The proposal calling for building an 18,000-square-foot, 5-bay structure off of Millwood Road, several hundred feet east of the current , which is located in downtown Millwood and will be replaced. The current firehouse, which was built in 1924, will eventually be sold.

The approval vote marks a major milestone for the fire district. Talk of doing something about the old firehouse dates back to the 1990s, when a study recommended taking major action, Board of Fire Commissioners Chair Hala Makowska told the Planning Board in July. The current firehouse has had three emergency repairs since 2001, she said.

The quest for a new firehouse was contentious in the past, including a battle in the early 2000s with  - he owned the now-demolished Millwood train station and the site of Millwood Lumber - when the district mulled using eminent domain to acquire his land. That attempt was unsuccessful, but in just a few years, the district managed to buy its current site, which is close to nine acres. The land for it was bought in phases, with most purchased in 2007 and a small addition in 2010. 

A 19,800-square-foot building was initially proposed for the current site, but was dropped around 2009. By 2010, the district settled on the current proposal and conducted a detailed environmental review for it. In April 2011, $9.95 million for the project. Its total estimated cost at the time was more than $13 million, with capital reserve fund being used as the other payment source. After the bond passage, the fire district went to the Planning Board, and review of the proposal started in July 2011.

The next step involves the construction drawings process. The goal for groundbreaking is next spring, with a 2014 completion.

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