Several people told the Baker City Planning Commission Wednesday evening that they oppose an application from Verizon Wireless to build a 70-foot-tall cell tower north of the Fairgrounds.
The Commission did not make a decision at the conclusion of the public hearing at City Hall, which attracted an audience of about 30.
Commissioners will have another public hearing on Verizon’s application for a conditional-use permit on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m., also at City Hall, 1655 First St.
The proposed site is a 2.12-acre property, owned by Carney and Deborah Lansford, that’s just north of D Street near its intersection with East Street. The property, which is zoned general-industrial, is north of Leo Adler Field and currently houses storage units.
According to the city’s zoning ordinance, Verizon could build a cell tower up to 50 feet high on the property without a conditional-use permit. The company would still have to submit an application, but the decision would be made by the planning director rather than the planning commissioners, who are appointed by the Baker City Council.
Residents, some of whom submitted written comments, cited multiple reasons for opposing the tower, including that it would block their views and reduce their property values.
Some people also planned to testify about what they believe are harmful health effects caused by electronic emissions from cell towers.
But Commission Chairman Alan Blair told the audience that commissioners are not allowed, under federal law, to consider electronic emissions from cell towers in deciding whether to approve the application.
Drew Martin, the city’s attorney, attended the meeting on behalf of the city and encouraged the commission to “simply stick to the conditions that are in the code.”
Martin said the federal government “has decided that it ... will make all decisions pertaining to the health effects of cell towers.”
This is the second time a proposed cell tower in that neighborhood has raised the ire of residents.
In September 2015 Verizon applied for a conditional use permit to build a 100-foot-tall tower on industrial property immediately west of the Lansfords’ parcel.
After a public hearing during which several residents objected to Verizon’s plan, the Planning Commission in October 2015 voted unanimously to deny the application.
Commissioners cited the “negative impacts on adjacent properties and on the public” that could not be mitigated by imposing conditions on Verizon.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Ann Mehaffy told commissioners she had also testified in opposition to Verizon’s 2015 application.
In written comments she submitted to the Planning Commission, Mehaffy wrote that “It is unthinkable that we must be dealing with this again; especially after the Planning Commission decided then, in 2015, to not allow a tower to be installed in our neighborhood. After all our collective hard work, for decades, to make Baker City such a unique, livable, and beautiful small town, it is preposterous to think a 70 ft cellphone tower would have any place in our Baker City residential neighborhoods.”
Kristi Hensley told commissioners she is concerned about noise from the emergency back up generator that would be installed with the tower. She said she has had no trouble with her cell service through Verizon.
As a business owner, Hensley said she’s always interested in developments that benefit the city’s economy, but that in the case of the proposed tower she doesn’t “see any benefit at all to how this would help our community.”
Verizon, however, says the tower would improve cell coverage.
From its conditional permit application: “Verizon’s customers currently experience a significant gap in coverage in the area in Baker City, Oregon. The target search area to fulfill this gap is generally north of Campbell Street. The gap is both a coverage issue and capacity issue.”
Sophia Mekkers of Black Rock Consulting, which is working on behalf of Verizon, attended Wednesday’s public hearing.
Mekkers told commissioners that according to Verizon engineers, a 50-foot tower, the maximum height allowed without a conditional-use permit, “just was not sufficient.”
“The minimum height required to provide the service that we need to provide is 70 feet, which is why we’re here this evening,” Mekkers said.
She also said the tower would have space for an additional cell carrier, one of Verizon’s competitors, to add its own equipment.
In a letter submitted to the Planning Commission by Hathaway Larson, a Portland law firm representing Verizon, the Commission’s 2015 rejection of the company’s application for a 100-foot tower is referenced.
“The City’s denial of the Application would be particularly problematic because the City already denied Verizon’s previous project intended to address the same significant gap in coverage and capacity in 2015,” the letter reads. “The current project is significantly shorter than the previous project, by 30 feet.”
The law firm also argues in the letter that Baker City’s zoning ordinance does not include provisions allowing commissioners to reject the application based on claims about reduced property values.
Commissioners received written statements from several residents opposed to Verizon’s application.
Tracy Howard wrote that she recently moved to Baker City to be near her grandchildren. Howard wrote that she would not have bought her home at 2935 Elm St., about one block west of the proposed site, had the cell tower been in place.
“This will hurt our ability to resell it and it will destroy the beauty we currently enjoy,” Howard wrote. “I am a breast cancer survivor and I am very concerned about the RF (radio frequency) my sister and I will be exposed to. We do not want this in our neighborhood.”
Jeana Hitzman, whose family lives on D Street just east of the property, said they bought their home for the view of the Elkhorns from their deck.
“If you allow Verizon to build their tower, we would be looking directly at a 70 foot cell tower instead of the beauty of this year,” Hitzman wrote.