Public Safety Facility Building Committee Expresses Concerns About Project
Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff, September 22, 2020; Updated: September 23, 2020*
Aerial view of area / Town of Hingham website
The Public Safety Facility Building Committee met last week to discuss a proposal by the Board of Selectmen to purchase a 3.1-acre lot of land at 335 Lincoln Street located at the Hingham Shipyard for the purpose of constructing a Public Safety Facility. The Facility would become the new home of both the police department and the North Street fire station. However, the Committee quickly identified constraints that exist on the proposed site.
The lot was described during the meeting as being a “well-located spot” that required some creativity to maximize the use of the land. “I like creativity,” said Committee member Paul Healey, “but I also like the idea that the (fire) truck can get in and out (of the lot) safely.”
The primary issue that took up a majority of discussion during the meeting was the safety and practicality of having fire trucks accessing Route 3A. “We’re trying to minimize the amount of exposure of that vehicle basically stopping traffic,” said one of the Town’s consultants. “It’s definitely a concern of ours as we’re looking at access.”
Fire Chief Steve Murphy stressed the importance of being able to control access onto Route 3A. “So specifically this would be contingent upon us adding another set of traffic lights kind of almost in front of Fresh Market,” he explained. “We would have to control at the same time the lights that already exist at Lincoln and Shipyard and then secondly another light further up in front of Fresh Market so that we can safely pull out and have clear access to make a left or to make a right.” Another option would be for the trucks to turn out onto Shipyard Drive, but that would require control of commuter boat traffic.
The consultants who presented the proposal said that they had had conversations with the Town’s Traffic Engineer, Jeff Dirk and reviewed some of the points of ingress and egress on the property. "This was our first pass with a back-in apparatus entering and exiting off of 3A," said the consultant about the plan. “Initially we thought about dumping a lot of the apparatus onto Essington, but obviously the MBTA parking lots create a lot of traffic there.” Essington is also a private way owned by the MBTA.
The Town’s Real Estate Attorney Susan Murphy suggested that perhaps abutters might be willing to work with the Town. “I’m familiar with all the parcels here,” she said. “There’s ways that this all can get all sorted out, but I think we need to identify what the various moving pieces and players of who has rights to what.” She noted that there may be other agreements that the Town would need to get in place in order to have this site work.
Attorney Murphy also pointed out that the reason this particular parcel is being eyed by the Selectmen is due to its location. “One of the primary reasons why this site was targeted for the Town and the Town is paying top dollar for it is direct access onto 3A,” said Murphy. “In talking with (Town Administrator) Tom (Mayo), there were a couple of other sites, but none of them were direct access onto 3A, and that was the appeal of this site.” However, in the November 21, 2006 meeting minutes from the now discharged Central Fire Station Building Committee, one member said that “if main facility were moved to one end of the town the response could be 12 minutes to certain areas of the town."
The proposal put forward by the consultants at last week’s meeting accounted for the space needed for an increase in staff during storm coverage; however, there was no mention of post-COVID accommodations. It also took into account individual needs for each department as well as spaces that could be shared between departments, and it prepared for a "full build-out" of Hingham. The Public Safety Facility that was built in Scituate two years ago was used for comparison. “The population in Scituate is hovering around 20,000 population," said the consultant, "and in our first meeting with (Town Administrator) Tom (Mayo) we're looking at a population here in Hingham to be designed to 30,000." The population in Hingham is currently around 24,000.
Scituate’s facility is 27,740 square feet and cost around $17M to build. That price did not include the purchase of the 6-acre parcel of land that it sits on. Hingham’s facility is projected to be twice as large. "Right now the total building area is in the ballpark of 56,000 square feet,” said a consultant. “As you can imagine, that starts to add up on a 3-acre lot.” He went on to say that based on the raw number data, a 3.3-acre site is needed. “So we’re right there,” he said.
Because of the size constraints of the lot and the fact that it slopes downward from Route 3A at an angle that is considered too steep, it is likely that the facility would not be able to accommodate a drive-through bay for the ladder truck. The way the bays are positioned on the plan currently, all of the trucks would go straight out onto 3A. Two existing Hingham fire stations have drive-throughs. “(Drive-throughs are) definitely desirable in the fire service, because it eliminates the backing,” said Fire Chief Steve Murphy. “When the Quint is backing into the station, it has to take over the entire road to be able to safely back in. That’s never desirable.”
The consultants agreed. “The departments that don’t have drive-throughs are those that have the sites with the greatest amount of challenges,” said one. “In 12 years of doing this, I think there’s only one or two that don’t have drive-throughs.”
The lot size also limits the number of parking spaces that would be available to the public and staff. Currently the plan calls for thirty spots. “What I heard was that (Scituate) needed more public parking, and they certainly had more than thirty spots,” said Committee member Joe Kelly. “I’m looking at this design and I’m wondering whether or not this site will support adequate parking.”
Even though the MBTA parking lot is situated directly behind the property, according to Attorney Murphy, "for multiple reasons, the Town doesn't have a legal right to use the MBTA parking lot for this parcel.” She said it would require a whole separate agreement that the MBTA would charge the Town for. “Even though it looks attractive that there's a big parking lot,” said Murphy, “the site has to be evaluated as if that big parking lot doesn't exist, and it has to be designed to be self-contained.”
In response, the consultant assured Committee members that there would be other proposals that would address the issues of access and parking. “Everything is fresh and it’s going to be fresh every single time we bring it to the table because it is happening at such an accelerated rate,” said one. “I had conversations about how do we consolidate the footprint and push things up and get more site area and get expansion capabilities in there. We're currently looking into adding a third level.” This would mean two levels along Route 3A and three on the back of the building.
Initially this proposal did not sit well with Kelly. “What about the aesthetic?” he asked. “If we go up a level, does that mean that people driving along 3A they can no longer see the Shipyard? They can no longer have a view of the Bay? Is that something we should be concerned about?” Another Committee member pointed out that the view is already obscured, and the consultant noted that the condos at the Shipyard are five stories. He suggested that by going to a third level, the Public Safety Facility is "going to fit the streetscape better.”
Attorney Murphy pointed out that the current owner has the approval to build a “rectangular, not super-attractive storage building that was going to be 2-½ stories high.” She went on to say that “regardless of who ends up owning this parcel, it’s more likely than not you’re going to have a larger building particularly given the industrial zoning.”
Kelly agreed that this was a reasonable response to provide to residents who expressed concerns over the size of the structure. “I know there’s been a lot of effort in terms of keeping Hingham Hingham, and we are likely to get some resident feedback,” he said. “The fact that it fits in and this is consistent with industrial zoning I think is an important point.”
Committee Chair Bob Garrity steered the discussion toward next steps. “We are on a very tight time schedule that anticipates going to a Special Town Meeting in November,” he said. “I believe the concept was probably to try to get full funding at that time, but the design development will take quite a while to work out all these different variables. So I guess the Townspeople should be thinking about whether we should be even going ahead.”
Kelly pointed out that the most crucial thing the Committee needed to determine was whether or not the site was going to work. “I view the primary goal is no-go or go. That’s why I think (it's important to be) pushing the questions everyone’s asking: Can we actually do a drive-through? Can we have parking? Is this going to work?,” he said, “so that we know if we want to buy the parcel.” The Committee will eventually make a recommendation, but ultimately it would be up to the Special Town Meeting to decide if the Town will purchase the parcel.
*Editor's Note: The article was updated to account for comments made by Committee member Joe Kelly that were mistakenly attributed to Selectman Joe Fisher.