Fire safety still flashpoint in new review of Bronson apartments
Updated 9:32 am, Wednesday, May 25, 2016
FAIRFIELD — Fire Chief Denis McCarthy told a Town Plan and Zoning Commission hearing Tuesday that a redesigned turnaround would not enhance safety at a 91-unit apartment building proposed, under the state's affordable-housing statute, for lower Bronson Road.
The application filed by Garden Homes was rejected unanimously by the commission in July 2014, but a Superior Court judge overturned the denial last September. The application was remanded to the commission to review a revised site plan first offered by the applicant on the last night of the original hearings.
There was no vote taken by the commission Tuesday, following about three hours of testimony and questioning.
The project calls for a 20-foot access road with a 2-foot-wide reinforced shoulder into the apartment site, and a turnaround that would allow fire apparatus to turn around on the property, rather than back out. To accommodate the turnaround, four units were dropped from the earlier plan, which had proposed 95 apartments.
“This site presents so many challenges for the Fire Department,” McCarthy said. “How long it takes to turn a piece of equipment around when we’re leaving the property is the least of our problems.”
The 2.7-acre property is located adjacent to an entrance ramp to Interstate 95 and Metro-North Railroad tracks.
McCarthy said having only one driveway providing access to vehicles both entering and leaving the property would pose problems for firefighters trying to enter the site during an emergenc, while apartment dwellers would be trying to get out. Since all the apartments are housed in one three-story building, any sort of fire would require that the entire structure be evacuated.
He said that is the case at another Garden Homes property in town on Fairchild Avenue. McCarthy said firefighters have been called to the 54-unit building 14 times since June 2014. “That included a structure fire and six other incidents that required full evacuation,” the fire chief said. “This makes our concerns very real,” he said. “This is not theoretical.”
But John Fallon, the lawyer representing Garden Homes, said the judge’s ruling found the 20-foot access road would be acceptable, and therefore should not be part of the narrow focus of Tuesday’s hearing. The application was remanded for TPZ review, he argued, to reconsider the new turnaround and the 2 feet of reinforced shoulder along the driveway.
The commission, Fallon said, had no “discretion beyond the items that are the subject of the remand.”
And Fallon’s expert on the fire codes, Joseph Versteeg of Versteeg Associates, LLC, told the TPZ the 20-foot-wide driveway complies with fire codes, and the turnaround is proposed so fire trucks do not have to back out of the 150-foot-long driveway.
He also said the driveway width allows two vehicles to pass each other in opposite directions. “There’s more than enough room,” Versteeg said. He also said that usually, when an alarm is triggered, a building’s occupants usually stand outside and don’t generally drive away from the scene.