Gearhart needs a new fire station. The existing building is antiquated and constructed of unreinforced masonry that will not perform well in an earthquake.
A new fire station should be in a location that best serves the community, has the support of the community, and is designed to contribute to making Gearhart safer and more resilient.
The Lesley Miller Dunes Meadow Park (aka Gearhart Park) is at the center of Gearhart’s oceanfront, and one of the places being considered for the fire station. It is also one of the places that makes Gearhart special. In this unique beautiful park, as Mrs. Miller had dreamed, everyone is able to have “a place to play baseball, football, have a picnic, or just sit, relax and watch the sunset.” People have even been married in the park.
Parks are important for towns — we should make more of them, not pave them over. The park should not even be considered for a fire station, unless there are no other options.
There are also many pragmatic reasons to not site a fire station in the park.
• Gearhart residents deserve a new fire station that uses taxpayer money wisely. Contrary to what the city of Gearhart estimates, I and many others believe that the “Gearhart Park station” option will end up being extremely expensive, probably well more than the other options being considered, due to the numerous complex regulatory and legal challenges with the site. There is a good chance of costs spiraling out of control with this option.
• The Lesley Miller Park is in the State DOGAMI (Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries) tsunami inundation zone. Oregon law prohibits new fire stations from being built in these zones. An exception will clearly be required. Yes, exceptions are possible to get approved, but primarily if there are no other strategic alternatives, which is clearly not the case here.
• The park was deeded to the city by the county in 1947 with the agreement that it always remain a park. I don’t see why the county would vote to modify the use, especially with so many county residents opposing this modification, unless there were no other site options, which is clearly not the case here.
• The city has stated in its literature to residents that park loss would be “minimal.” Apparently they want to bring in a fleet of dump trucks after cutting down most of the trees on the site and fill in a large area of the dunes for a replacement park in sensitive dune areas. Creating open space on already open space. The reality is that a 13,000-square-foot fire station and large unsightly asphalt parking lot on one of the most beautiful places on the North Coast will have a massive negative impact on the park, effectively ruining a place that people on the North Coast have enjoyed for generations. This park is the wrong place to put a fire station.
The city has spent several years trying to find a suitable site for a new fire station. It would be a very difficult undertaking for any group. The Gearhart Fire Station Committee has worked long hours and we are grateful for their work, along with city staff and elected leaders working hard on this difficult problem. Let’s now all come together around a solution that has broad community support.
Fortunately, Gearhart has several viable options for locating a fire station. The city has higher ground outside of the state-defined tsunami inundation zone, between 60 and 70 feet above sea level, and these areas should be considered first. The largest area outside of the tsunami inundation zone is around McMenamins, sometimes called Palisades or Highlands, at 60–70 feet above sea level. The other is at the south end of South Ocean Avenue. If we have an earthquake, I’m certainly not going to Lesley Miller Park to ride out a potential tsunami. I am going to the Palisades or South Ocean Avenue, like everyone west of 101 should. They are the highest places in Gearhart west of the foothills.
The sooner residents say “no” to a fire station in Lesley Miller Dunes Meadow Park, the sooner everyone can focus on finding the best site and getting the fire station built.
As Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi: ”Don’t it always seem to go ... That you don’t know what you’ve got ... ‘Till it’s gone ... They paved paradise ... And put up a parking lot.”
The park is a paradise for many of us. Let’s forget about destroying the park for a fire station, come together to find the best solution, and build something that makes Gearhart safer and more resilient. And then, let’s all watch one of those magnificent sunsets from the park, together.
Stuart Emmons is an architect and planner who used to have a woodshop on the North Coast and now comes to the coast frequently.