Stinson Beach fire district to buy lot for new station, services

03/27/2019

The Stinson Beach Fire Protection District may soon own a piece of land it hopes can house a new fire station, firefighter housing or expanded emergency medical services. 

The district is moving quickly. The proposal appeared on the board of directors’ public agenda for the first time on Monday, the same night directors voted unanimously in closed session to bid on the property—just three doors down from the firehouse and the site of a historic hotel that burned down in 1971. 

Board president Jim Richie told the Light yesterday that the district is already in a 90-day escrow. 

“We’ve been considering this for a while,” Mr. Richie said. “It was important not to put it on the public agenda until we determined it was a viable option—real estate considerations are sensitive. But this is by no means a secret: it’s a small town.”  

Should the deal go through, the board plans to go to community members for a discussion about how to make use of the opportunity before developing any plans. 

Although Mr. Richie would not disclose how much the district offered, he said it has enough savings—a combination of donations and property tax revenue—to make the purchase without draining reserves. 

To develop the land, which is unimproved, the district would have to raise additional funds. Monies from Measure W could contribute to those costs down the line.

Mr. Richie said the long-term owners of the property, Roderick Freebairn-Smith and Janet Crane—a San Francisco couple who own a small architecture firm—were excited at the prospect of the property aiding emergency services. 

Chris Harrington, a real estate agent with Oceanic Realty who campaigned for Measure W, is brokering the deal. 

Additional real estate could help the volunteer force, which takes care of a booming number of tourists in and out of the water at Stinson Beach in myriad ways. 

For the mix of district employees—including the chief, part-time assistant chiefs and a rotating duty officer position—and volunteers who are on-call at all hours, a local living arrangement is ideal, though hard to come by. Currently, the district has access to a room in the firehouse, which board members recently helped to upgrade, including by putting in a murphy bed. 

“That is a more comfortable space now, but it is still like being at boarding school or summer camp,” Mr. Richie explained. “Housing, and improvements to the facilities, expanding our medical presence—this is our wish list.”

The Shoreline Highway property is roughly 7,000 square feet, though Mr. Richie said an adjacent property owner might be interested in contributing his lot to expand that square footage. 

Commenting on the agenda item at this week’s board meeting, one downtown resident asked about the proposed height of any building destined for the lot. Board members said they couldn’t comment on the matter given the early stage of the process. 

No other residents present at the meeting—there were around 10—commented about the proposed purchase, instead voicing concerns about the town’s preparedness for fire season.

The fire department’s prospective ownership of the new property is apt, considering its history. According to local historian Dewey Livingston, the four-story, 30-room hotel that was built in 1913—first called the Sea Beach Hotel and then the Grand Hotel—burned in December 1971 from an unknown cause. No one died. 

The next spring, the Marin Independent Journal quoted the fire chief at the time, George H. White, who said the instance made him question the town’s ability to fight a major fire. “Only the fact that it had been raining—dampening the ground and buildings—during the Grand Hotel Fire saved the town from destruction,” he told the newspaper.