Verizon has other options

We support the Planning Commission’s decision to deny Verizon’s application for a 70-foot cell tower in a residential area because their decision was based on the criteria set forth in the Baker City Development Code (Code). We support maintaining local control using our local Code to guide how our city develops. We urge Verizon to withdraw its appeal and instead explore the abundant alternative sites that exist in the community that avoid residential areas. The technology has value but not if it means surrendering local control to a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Some background on this appeal. The permitted height for a cell tower inside the city limits is 50 feet and restricted to lots zoned Industrial or Commercial. Any height greater than that requires a conditional use permit. In 2015 Verizon proposed a 100-foot tower on a remnant industrial lot in a high-density residential area. The tower was denied because the height did not meet the criteria set forth in the Code. In 2019 Verizon proposed a 70-foot tower on a different remnant industrial lot in the same area. The Planning Commission again denied the application for the same reasons as in 2015. Now Verizon is appealing the Planning Commission’s decision to deny it a conditional use permit. It is using phrases like “violation of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996,” “significant gap in service,” and “prohibiting provision of wireless service.” These statements are not true and we want to set the record straight on Verizon’s appeal points.

Verizon states that the Planning Commission’s decision violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Not true. The 1996 Act states in Section 704 (7) that local government authority is the final authority in the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service with one limitation: a cell tower cannot be denied based on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions. The Planning Commission did not make its decision based on radio frequency emissions but on whether the application met the Code criteria.

Verizon states: “Although there are residential zoned properties in the area, the City Council has already determined that the telecommunication facilities are a compatible use for this area by zoning the property General industrial.”

Not true. The City Council did not zone the property General Industrial. It is a remnant General Industrial property. The issue is the tower’s proposed height, not the tower. A conditional use permit is required for any telecommunications tower over 50 feet. Once over 50 feet all relevant sections of the Code must be evaluated and a site-specific decision made based on the criteria.

Verizon states that the Planning Commission erred in denying the Application based on the location of the site, visibility, aesthetics, and compatibility with the surrounding uses.

Not true. The Planning Commission is required by Code section 4.4.400 to consider these factors when deciding on a request for a conditional use permit. Therefore the Planning Commission evaluated and denied the application appropriately based on an assessment of the site and surrounding area.

Verizon states that the Commission’s decision would “prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting” the provision of wireless service.

Not true. The Planning Commission’s decision is not a blanket denial of cell towers but one decision about one particular site because the application did not meet the Code’s criteria for this particular site. Cell towers already exist inside the city limits.

Verizon states there is a significant gap in service coverage.

The information they provide is complicated, the coverage maps are of poor quality, and when questioned they tell us to trust their staff. Yet poor as the coverage maps are they suggest good coverage and minimal change with the addition of another tower. Furthermore, the cell coverage has been excellent even during the 2015 Cornet-Windy wildfire (a high stress, crisis situation), the 2017 eclipse, and the various yearly events where Baker City’s population and cell use temporarily increase.

Verizon states that there are no other feasible sites.

Not true. The lack of feasible sites is only because Verizon chose to limit themselves to the bare minimum search radius despite flexibility in the Code. The Code simply requires that “…alternative sites within a radius of at least 2000 feet have been considered” (Section 3.6.300 (C)(2)). The radius can be expanded. If the radius is expanded to 2800 feet then options open up in areas zoned Commercial-General. If you expand it even further more options show up. These sites allow for greater tower heights and avoid residential areas.

Editor’s note: This opinion was submitted and signed by the following residents: Suzanne Fouty, Ann Mehaffy, Don Herman, Mary Miller, Barb O’Neal, Mike Blank, Cynthia Roberts, Gretchen Stadler, Whit Deschner, Maureen Quinn, Barbara Meyer, Mike Meyer

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