Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo hopes to see the start of plugging a big gap in the city's fire coverage when the Winston-Salem City Council acts tonight on a request to buy vacant land off Burke Mill Road for a new fire station.

Mayo approached city council committees last week with maps that show that the most significant area in the city that can't be reached by a fire truck within four minutes is a zone stretching north and south from Silas Creek Parkway to Clemmonsville Road near its intersection with Griffith Road.

Mayo and other city officials are asking the city council tonight to approve spending $210,050 to buy a four-acre vacant lot off the south side of Burke Mill Road about halfway between Griffith Road and Woodland Hills Drive.

The lot is at 2110 Bethel Church Road, a dead-end road that leads to Bethel United Methodist Church.

In an unusual arrangement, the church, which now owns the property, would get the ability to use a multipurpose room that is being constructed for the new fire station. In exchange, the city is getting a $71,000 discount on the purchase price of the property.

The city council will meet tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Mayo assured council members last week that the fire station and community room would be separated in the building from each other, so that church members wouldn't be accidentally wandering into the station bays.

"They will use it as a fellowship hall," Mayo said of the church. "It will be used at most on Sunday afternoon or Wednesday evenings. I don't anticipate putting a large strain on the space. I've been part of fire departments in the past that had something like this. For every time the community used it, the fire department used it 25 times."

The church would book its use of the space in advance to avoid conflicts with fire department activities, city officials said.

Mayo told council members last week that the area isn't the only one outside the four-minute reach of a fire department, but that it is the most significant in terms of potential fire threats.

John Larson, the council member for South Ward, told fellow council members last week that the purchase of the land would fill "an obvious hole in the middle of the city" for fire coverage.

"We spent a lot of time trying to find a location that would meet the needs of the city," Larson said, noting that it is hard to find available land in the South Ward.

Ironically, the city once had a fire station on Griffith Road, which runs through the area the new station will give better coverage to.

The former station was too small to house an aerial truck the city wanted to put in a place that would be close to Hanes Mall and other development nearby. So in 2004 the city built the new station on Somerset Drive off Stratford Road.

The only concern expressed by council members about the deal last week was the long-term relationship with the church. Council Member Vivian Burke said it was always possible the church could move away. 

City officials explained that if the church leaves or shuts down in the future, the lease would be void. Still Burke abstained on the motion in committee to approve the purchase.

In addition to providing a community meeting space, Mayo said he hopes to use part of the new fire station to show off some items of fire department history.

*Also on tap tonight is the passage of the 2019-20 city budget, which has been extensively discussed in the city Finance Committee. Tonight's meeting will have a public hearing for citizen comment.

Proposed is a 4-cent increase on the tax rate to cover the cost of financing bonds approved by the voters in 2018. The new tax rate would be 63.74 cents for every $100 of taxable property.

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