Fire commissioners move forward on station sale

P1550094By Oliver Lazenby

Three years after declaring the Custer fire station “surplus,” North Whatcom Fire and Rescue is making progress toward selling the station and has hired local real estate broker Mike Kent to market the property.

Not everyone agrees with the decision – fire commissioner Dean Berkeley made a push in recent months to reconsider the sale over concerns about future population growth.

The Custer station hasn’t been staffed for years, but with nearby Birch Bay projected to grow by more than 5,000 residents in the next 20 years, Berkeley thinks the decision to sell is premature.

“I can’t see selling a station for a measly $350,000 and then five or 10 years down the road having to build a new one for a couple million,” he said.

Berkeley made a motion to revisit the decision at an April 21 board of commissioners meeting, but the other fire commissioners wouldn’t discuss it.

“It could have at least been discussed,” Berkeley said. “It’s appalling to me that it wasn’t.”

Berkeley campaigned for fire commissioner on a platform of not selling the Custer station, he said, and he narrowly beat 18-year incumbent Roger Hawley.

“The people put me in place because of my stance on the station,” he said.

Berkeley thinks the board should have looked into other options, such as leasing the station, he said.

Fire chief Henry Hollander said there have been inquiries into leasing the station, but that’s not a direction the board wanted to pursue.

Fire commissioners didn’t respond to interview requests.

The board of commissioners voted unanimously to declare the station surplus in 2013. At that time it hadn’t been staffed for several years due to a lack of volunteers.

“There are very few people in that area who are willing to volunteer anymore,” Hollander said. “Years ago, when the district was all volunteer, there were stations in every community. The reduction in volunteers is a nationwide issue right now.”

Hollander said the district doesn’t need the Custer station since the community of Custer isn’t growing and the Birch Bay station 4.5 miles west is staffed 24/7. The Blaine station, which is also staffed around the clock, is about 7 miles away from Custer.

The station has been on the market for about two years already, but the district hasn’t had any acceptable offers, Hollander said.

It’s a unique property, said Kent, who has already shown it to several interested parties. The building is 4,784 square feet, and sits on a 26,000-square-foot lot that is mostly a parking lot. Kent has set a price of $340,000 for the property.

“The interest so far is from folks who have hobby interests in motorcycle or auto restoration work,” he said.

Kent is also looking into getting a conditional use permit that would allow someone to live in the space, since it already has a kitchen and bathrooms.

“It could be great for a collector, particularly if they collect fire trucks,” Kent said.

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