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ATC drops cell tower appeal

American Tower Corporation has chosen not to appeal a Hood River County Planning Commission decision that denied the company a permit to build a cellphone tower on the west side of Hood River.

The deadline for ATC to appeal the decision to the County Board of Commissioners passed at the end of the day Thursday and Josette Griffiths, senior planner for the County Planning Department, reported that nothing was received from ATC by County Records and Assessment.

The Massachusetts-based cell tower construction company had been trying to build a 165-foot tower at 3790 Fairview Drive for over a year when it dropped the proposal last week after receiving significant pushback from local residents.

Many were concerned the tower, which would have been disguised as a fir tree, would block their views of mounts Hood and Adams and impact the scenic quality of the nearby Westside Community Trail. The planning department received approximately 90 comments on the proposal — all negative — by the end of its public comment period last year.

In July, the planning department denied ATC a Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area land use permit on the basis that its tower was too tall and was not “visually compatible” with its surroundings. ATC paid $250 to appeal the decision to the planning commission and dropped the tower height from 165 feet to 140 feet.

The 25-foot concession did little to appease project opponents, who showed up in droves to testify against the project during an October public hearing held by the planning department on the matter. The planning commission agreed and voted 6-1 in November to deny the cell tower once again based on issues of visual incompatibility.

Bonnie Belair, lead counsel for ATC, confirmed last week that the cell tower company would not be paying the $2,200 fee to continue the appeal process at the county commission level.

“I think it was pretty clear the proposal was not going to be successful,” she said.

ATC representatives reported the siting of the tower was based on a need to maximize coverage for AT&T and resolve potential future gaps in coverage that could compromise cell service in the case of emergency. Belair said she did not know if ATC would attempt to site the tower at another location in the Hood River area.

Melanie Finstad, who lives with her husband, Terry, just a short distance down Fairview Drive from the proposed tower site, said she “wasn’t against cell towers” but noted that the proposal “just needs to be planned out better.” She added that she was “extremely happy” about the outcome and thanked Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee for being “fantastic in their support against the (tower) site.”

Jeff Blackman, who with Erin Burnham owns the property at 3790 Fairview Drive that would have been leased to ATC, has been trying to develop his 10-acre parcel for years, but said he has no plans for development at this time.

“I would like to see the land be used for something good for the community such as ball fields, schools or affordable housing, but as of now there is nothing in the plans,” he reported.

Blackman said his land was zoned rural-residential unlike Barrett Park, where plans to build ball fields had to be shelved due to the west side park being zoned exclusive farm use — a designation that does not allow developed ball fields. Still, Blackman, isn’t sure about what he might do with the parcel now, if anything.

“The county said (the parcel) was zoned this way for urban reserve, so I guess we will just have to wait and see what that means,” he said.

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