Planning commission settles on cell tower rules

A rule set for cell towers will go back to the Hood River County Board of Commissioners on April 18.

The County Planning Commission voted 5-0 Wednesday to send their final recommendations on a cell tower ordinance back to the Board of Commissioners after a public hearing, which drew a small handful of people — representatives with AT&T, a land use group and two concerned citizens.

The ordinance sets criteria for where cellular communication towers should go and how tall they should rise.

Planning Commission agreed towers should be set up at a distance from neighbors — at least the tower’s height plus 10 percent. Those height requirements range from 200 feet in exclusive farm use (EFU) and forest zones to 50 feet in the Airport Development (AD) zone. Towers are banned in R-1 zones, residential.

Wireless telecommunication companies have argued their coverage relies on “line of sight” transmission, which means towers work best when they peek above trees and hills. However, residents have argued big towers tarnish the valley’s scenic views.

Two controversial towers in recent years — which failed to go up at Fairview Road and Multnomah Road — sparked interest in a legislative framework to regulate cell structures. An advisory committee spent about a year writing up an ordinance, which was bounced back from the County Board of Commissioners to the Planning Commission for final tweaks, after a request in January by AT&T to match the ordinance more closely with federal law.

Meanwhile, the only current tower application drawing public opposition is planned by Verizon Wireless for Windmaster Corner, near Hood River Valley High School. The Planning Commission will take on that issue next Wednesday, April 13, at 5:30 p.m. in the Business Administration Building.

This week’s hearing, however, was about general rules for new cell towers. Only applications proposed after the legislation kicks in will be affected, County Counsel Will Carey explained — not Windmaster.

The ordinance affects unincorporated areas of the county that aren’t part of Hood River’s urban growth boundary and aren’t in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

On Wednesday, planning commissioners agreed to uphold the height requirements tentatively set in 2015. Restrictions had a goal of fewer towers, even if they’re tall, instead of multiple smaller towers. Commissioners preferred to set more stringent setbacks, instead of height, which can be “subjective” in visual impact on neighbors.

“If we use larger setbacks, it addresses the (impacts) in a more objective way,” Commissioner Jennifer Euwer said.

Chair Bob Schuppe felt the ordinance “strikes a balance” between the need for cell coverage and the impact on residents.

The Planning Commission unanimously voted to send their ironed out recommendations back to the County Board of Commissioners for a decision on April 18. That will be the fourth public hearing the board has held on the cell tower ordinance.

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