Faux Pine Tree Cell Tower Considered

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 11:13 am

A 100-foot cell phone tower disguised as a faux pine tree is proposed to go up north of the viaduct. The tower would improve cell phone coverage and bandwidth for Verizon Wireless subscribers, especially near downtown.

Verizon currently has a tower on Lion Mountain but consultants say more coverage is needed to keep up with demand from smartphone users. The proposed tower is designed to allow two additional antennas from other wireless providers.

The planning board recommended approval of the tower at their Sept. 20 meeting with a 4-2 vote. City council will look at the proposal during their Oct. 15 meeting.

The half-acre site is on property owned by Tim and Linda Babiak east of Wisconsin Avenue at 626 Woodland Place. The proposed location was chosen to minimize impact on nearby property. The tower would be partially obscured by existing trees, including a row of 80-foot poplars and a single 50-foot pine tree.

“The faux pine tree cell tower should fit in fairly well aesthetically, although at 100 feet, it will protrude above existing trees,” the planning staff noted in their report.

The view of Big Mountain from Central Avenue would not be impacted, although the faux tree will be visible from the viaduct and the rooftop bar at Casey’s.

The proposed location is just the latest in a number of attempts by the city and consultants for Verizon to find a suitable site for a downtown cell phone tower.

Depot Park and the roof of the middle school were each investigated as possible sites and eventually discarded. City council denied last winter a formal request to put the tower on the city snow lot at Railway and Columbia Avenue.

“None of those sites received positive reviews from city officials due either to use conflicts, concern for children’s safety, or aesthetic issues,” the planning department’s report said.

Other sites with existing towers were deemed unacceptable by Verizon consultants. Towers already exist near the depot and off of Baker Avenue and West 10th Street.

Grouse Mountain blocks the signal to the north at the West 10th Street tower and BNSF said their tower was unavailable.

Planning staff noted a few concerns with the proposed site at Woodland Place, including aesthetics and safety issues.

“Since it is proposed to be located near a residential area,” the staff report notes, “ideally the tower should be placed in a location where it would not hit any adjacent buildings should the structure somehow fall over during a storm or earthquake.”

“The tower could damage the existing house on the lot as well as adjacent multi-family and commercial structures, which is a concern.”

Staff said it may be possible to locate a shorter tower between 60- and 70-feet-tall closer to the west property line to be far enough away from surrounding homes. A shorter tower would also help with aesthetics.

“If it was only 60 feet, no one would notice it,” planning director David Taylor told the planning board.

Verizon representative Kevin Howell said the 100 foot height allows their signal to reach everyone downtown and would help reach wireless users on Big Mountain. Any lower, he said, wouldn’t be much of a benefit and more towers would likely be needed.

Neighbors have raised concerns about possible health risks associated with being near high levels of radio frequency radiation, although the Federal Telecommunications Act says a city can’t deny a cell tower due to heath concerns.

Ken Stein and Mary Vail voted against recommending the permit at the Sept. 20 planning board meeting.

Stein said there are alternative sites that would be less intrusive. Vail said she would like city council to reconsider a downtown location, such as the snow lot.

Zak Anderson said the city is maxed out in wireless coverage. Anderson said he uses his phone for data all the time and wished the tower was in his own yard.

Before motioning to recommend approval, Grant Gunderson suggested the Architectural Review Committee look at the design and decide if a regular tower was better than the faux tree.

The ARC looked at the design Oct. 2 and was split 3-3 on whether a faux tree or standard pole was more suitable. The committee did agree that location was more important than design. The view across the viaduct toward Big Mountain should be protected, they said.

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