The Baker City Planning Commission heard more testimony Wednesday about a proposed 70-foot-tall cell tower in north Baker City, but commissioners didn’t take any action on the request from Verizon Wireless.
Commissioners left the record open and will accept written comments, in reaction to new information presented Wednesday, until 5 p.m. on Nov. 20.
“If that testimony is submitted electronically, I recommend calling to verify that we received it by the deadline,” said Holly Kerns, director of the Baker City-County Planning Department.
The Planning Commission will meet next on Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St. The Commission will not take public testimony at that meeting, but it could make a decision on Verizon’s application for a conditional-use permit. The company had to apply for the permit because its proposed tower, at 70 feet, is 20 feet higher than the city’s zoning ordinance allows in the industrial zone without a permit.
The proposed site is just north of D Street near its intersection with East Street, north of the Baker County Fairgrounds and Leo Adler Field.
As was the case during the Commission’s Oct. 16 meeting, several residents attended Wednesday’s meeting to urge commissioners to reject Verizon’s application.
Mike Malone submitted a petition he circulated that included signatures of 142 residents opposed to the tower.
Several people told commissioners Wednesday that the proposed tower would mar their views. Although the 2.2-acre parcel where the tower would be built is zoned industrial, there are residential neighborhoods nearby.
Although Eva Henes, senior planner for the Baker City-County Planning Department, reminded the audience that federal law prohibits local governments from making decisions on cell towers based on health concerns, several residents cited such concerns in their comments and written testimony.
In a letter, Gretchen Stadler wrote that “I use and support wireless technology, but I am concerned about its related and increasing health effects.”
In a letter, Joan and Randolph Tracy wrote that “Industrial activities, like cell towers, should be limited and confined to planned industrial sites or best of all, where other arrays currently exist.”
Cynthia Roberts wrote that although the proposed site is zoned industrial, “it is also surrounded on 3 sides by residential.”
Roberts contends that allowing the cell tower would reduce property values, affect residents’ views and force them “to endure the noise of the tower’s generator.”
Although no residents testified in favor of the tower, attorney Michael Connors of Hathaway Larson LLP in Portland attended, representing Verizon.
Connors, who read a written statement, said Verizon is willing to camouflage the single-pole tower with green material intended to make the tower resemble a tree.
“Although the (Baker City) code doesn’t require it, our client agreed to do it in this case,” Connors said. “They heard the testimony, they understand concerns about visual impact and in this case, agreed to propose a monopine stealth facility.”
The “branches” would add 5 feet to the tower, making it 75 feet tall.
Connors told commissioners that engineers picked the 2.2-acre parcel because a tower there would meet Verizon’s goal of improving cell coverage in Baker City.
“I think if you look at the evidence, understand that we’ve got expert evidence from our RF (radio frequency) engineer, that is explaining and showing through some of our data that there really is coverage and capacity need,” Connors said.
He noted the city hired an independent RF consultant to review Verizon’s material, and the consultant agreed with that analysis.
In response to concerns raised by citizens, Connors said existing Verizon facilities in this area are at maximum capacity.
“As each wireless facility has a fixed amount of system capacity, the only way to add capacity is to provide a new facility,” Connors said.