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Fire Commissioner Cornelius Keane Thursday evening defended the choice of Elmwood Avenue and Virginia Street as the site for a new firehouse.

Keane spoke at a public hearing in the Common Council Chambers attended by 50 neighborhood residents, many of them against the plan to purchase the Painters Union Hall. Four fire stations in the Lower West Side were closed last summer.

"As the new commissioner, I was asked to make budget cutbacks because the city faced a $25 million deficit," Keane said. "We felt we were able to close four fire halls. We did so.

"A new one would be built to respond to all areas of the West Side. At Elmwood and Virginia, I believe we have found the ideal location," he added.

Keane said the station would be roughly between two of the fire stations closed last year -- one at Chenango and Rhode Island streets, the other at Ellicott and South Division streets.

The other stations closed were at Washington and Tupper streets and on Court Street behind City Hall.

Most of the parking lot between the two buildings would be occupied by a new fire hall to house an engine and a ladder company. The remaining 17 parking spaces would serve an average of nine employees on duty. The one-story building at 376 Virginia St. would be used for firefighters' barracks.

The complex would eventually become the headquarters of the Fire Department.

Giambra said a study showed that a firehouse on that corner would have minimal impact on the neighborhood, where residents have voiced concern over increased traffic and noise.

Speaking in favor of it, John Cromwell of 180 Edward St. said the presence of a firehouse would discourage prostitutes who have been loitering on the corner.

Craig Speers of 140 Winston Road, in North Buffalo, said the property could be kept on the tax rolls if it were purchased by a corporation for its headquarters. He said city officials should be working toward that goal.

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