American’s proposed “monofir” cell tower shown against the tallest adjacent tree height.
The Hood River County Planning Department is fielding inquiries and concerns from several neighbors near Westside Elementary School over the proposed installation of a 160-foot-tall commercial cell tower.
Public comment on the application will be accepted through Dec. 21, 5 p.m. at the Planning Department. The land that would host the tower is owned by Jeff Blackman and Erin Burnham, who are married.
The tower would be located at the north end of the parcel that runs north-south between Fairview Drive and Rocky Road. The nine-foot-high barbed wire enclosed base would cover a 50x50 foot square plot near the south end of Rocky Road.
Fairview Drive adjacent resident Melanie Finstad is one of the neighbors with concerns.
“Mr. Blackman has done many wonderful things for this community,” said Finstad. “I hope he realizes that this is a mistake.”
Finstad is organizing a Dec. 18 neighborhood meeting to provide information on the issues tied to view obstruction, potential generator noise, property value impacts and other concerns. The meeting will take place Tuesday, 6-8 p.m. at 3876 Fairview Drive. She has invited Blackman and Burnham to attend.
According to Blackman, he has already signed a contract with American and the application is being made through the company. Contracts offer long-term lease revenue to property owners. If approved, the parcel could become the host of the American Tower Corporation’s investment – leading to leased space for multiple cell service providers including AT&T.
“This was the last thing I wanted to do with that property,” said Blackman, who had previously sought to use his land as a potential ball field, bicycle park, school site or affordable housing complex – all uses previously not allowed under zoning regulations.
According to Finstad the tower’s dominating presence will obstruct many neighbors’ views and be out of place for the surrounding rural area. Although slated to replicate the appearance of a fir tree, the tower will rise more than 100 feet above the tallest of the surrounding trees.
Blackman expressed frustration about the long-term difficulties he has experienced in trying to develop his 10-acre RR-10 zoned land located in the National Scenic Act General Management Area.
“This was a very difficult decision for us — one that we spent a lot of time considering before we decided to go through with it,” said Blackman.
According to Josette Griffiths, county planner assigned to the application review, public comment should address concerns tied to the criteria regulations that govern the property. County Ordinances 55, 60 and 75, available online, provide some guidance.
If approved, additional rural residential placements could become more difficult to deny based on the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 that prohibits jurisdictions from creating unequal access for telecommunications facilities.
The county began to develop a specific cell tower ordinance following a previously denied 2009 application at Belmont and Frankton roads, but never completed the process after budget cuts reduced staff.
For the current site, the initial application has been submitted by American. The county has responded, requesting some additional information based on zoning criteria. The county will have 150 days from the final completed application, to issue a Planning Director decision, which would provide opportunity for appeal.