County Board of Commissioners upholds Windmaster cell tower

Planning Commission’s approval of a 100-foot cell tower in southwest Hood River stands, the County Board of Commissioners decided Monday night.

The board voted unanimously, 5-0, to reinforce the tower’s approval for a land use permit, rejecting an appeal by a neighboring property owner, Rebecca Rawson.

Verizon Wireless wants to build the monopole telecommunications tower on industrial land owned by Double Mountain LLC, near Windmaster Corner. It would peak into the sky south of Hood River Valley High School’s ballfields.

Verizon representatives have argued a new tower is necessary to provide coverage for cell phone users south of Hood River, while area residents have claimed it would be an eyesore tarnishing the scenic, wooded vista.

First proposed in 2014, the tower design has gone through multiple changes. After pushback from local residents, Verizon scaled down the tower by 20 feet and vetted “concealment technology” to paint the pole brown and disguise it as a tree.

County staff approved the modified tower, but Rawson appealed that decision to the Planning Commission. After the planning panel voted down that appeal in April, Rawson carried over the appeal to the County Board of Commissioners.

On Monday, both sides of the issue squared off.

“There is likely universal agreement that we all want adequate cell phone coverage …. there has been no reason given, however, which explains why Verizon cannot install towers on more remote hillsides outside of populated areas in our valley,” Rawson said in a letter.

Ann Oldfather, representing the Rawson family, asserted that Verizon hadn’t followed federal criteria in proving that another site could house their tower.

Phil Grillo, an attorney with Verizon, said the tower met federal and local rules, and that the argument had boiled down to visual impact.

“This is an issue about aesthetics. It’s based on an issue of height and the way it looks,” Grillo said.

The Board of Commissioners heard from speakers, allowed a window of rebuttal, then closed the hearing. Without any significant deliberation, the board decided to uphold Planning Commission’s recommendation, which puts the tower one major step closer to construction.

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