An expansion project proposed by the Lehighton Fire Department will be discussed by the Lehighton Zoning Hearing Board this evening.

The hearing is scheduled for 7 o'clock in the municipal building.

The fire company has proposed razing three houses and adding several more bays.

Because the project is proposed in an area zoned residential, the following issues must be addressed:

Ÿ The use of the land as proposed by the fire department requires a special exception by the zoning hearing board.

Ÿ The proposal doesn't meet minimum setback requirements as outlined in the zoning regulations. As a result, the zoning hearing board must determine if a variance to the regulations can be given.

Ÿ The maximum building coverage is more than 40 percent of the site, which requires zoning board approval.

The hearing is open to the public.

The project, expected to cost about $3.5 million, involves retaining the present Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 and Engine Company No. 2 buildings. The No. 2 building has had extensive renovations to house the borough police department. The police are expected to move into the new facility in the near future.

The houses to be demolished are already owned by Lehigh Fire Company No. 1. They will be turned over to Lehighton Borough at no cost to the taxpayers, said fire company officials.

The Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building was constructed in 1938 as part of the federal recovery program from the Great Depression.

The Engine Company 2 building was erected in 1910.

Steve Ebbert, a member of the Lehighton Fire Department and the department's grant writer, said the expansion project will make operations safer for volunteer firefighters.

Currently, said Ebbert, the firefighters are working in cramped facilities from two different locations. Gear is stored in Station 1 and apparatus is located in both buildings.

He also pointed out that new safety standards require venting for apparatus exhaust to be installed. Where gear is presently stored subjects it to diesel exhaust, Ebbert said.

One other important factor in wanting to enlarge the facilities is that often during major winter storms or other emergencies, where there is potential for widespread power outages, volunteers spend in excess of 24 hours at the station. There currently are no facilities to accommodate them.

The new station would have bunks for the volunteers.