Union Wireless appeals denial for new cell tower to Routt County Commissioners

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What: Routt County Commissioners hear Union Wireless appeal over Plan Commission’s rejection of its application for a new cell tower

When: 2 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Commissioners’ Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse 522 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs

Union Wireless returns to the Routt County approval process Tuesday seeking to appeal a narrow vote in September by Planning Commission members that denied the cell phone and data provider’s request to build a new telecommunications tower on private land about 7 miles south of Steamboat Springs.

This time around, Union has put specifics to its plan to build a “monopine” telecommunications tower that resembles a 50-foot evergreen tree.

Union seeks to build the new tower on Routt County Road 41 in the middle of two rural subdivisions, Big Valley Ranch and Hilton Gulch. The proposed location would give the new tower line-of-sight connections to a microwave tower high above the valley on Walton Peak, but neighbors say it intrudes on their treasured views of forests and meadows. The Planning Commission’s discussion on Sept. 26, as well as comments from an audience of 40 people, were complicated by the fact that Union sought to modify its proposal on the fly, downgrading its original plans for an 80-foot, lattice-style tower to a stealth monopole intended to reduce the visual impact of the tower from neighboring homes and rural roads.

Most of the planning commissioners felt that the sudden change of plans by Union left them unable to evaluate the proposal.

“The whole game changed,” Commissioner Bob Woodmansee said at the Sept. 26 hearing. “The tower we reviewed is not on the table. I’m very concerned with the due diligence issue. I don’t think we have enough information to be able to make a decision. If it was up to me right now, it would be to (vote to) table or deny.”

Gary Engle, a trial lawyer who has lived in the neighborhood of the proposed new tower in Hilton Gulch for 18 years, urged Routt County, during public comment Sept. 26, to retain a specialized consulting firm to help it develop a comprehensive approach to managing the development and location of telecommunications towers across the county.

Union Wireless representative Jim Malone, who presented the plan to the Planning Commission in September, wrote in the county appeal form that he had sought to amend the plan to include the shorter, less obtrusive style pole, but instead of tabling the petition, which would have allowed his company to submit a new plan, the Planning Commission denied the application outright.

“Union wishes to appeal the decisions and provide evidentiary materials for the purpose and necessity of a cellular communication site at the proposed location, and demonstrate that it can mitigate the visual effect with a stealth site,” Malone wrote.

The Wyoming-based cell provider, with stores in Northern Colorado and Wyoming, was seeking a conditional use permit from the county in September, which allows the Planning Commission to have the final say without its vote automatically going to the Board of County Commissioners. However, Union had the right to appeal the 4-3 vote that would have postponed its plans for at least a year.

In a memo to county commissioners sent Nov. 1, staff planner Kristy Winser observed that cell towers in general do not conform to the Routt County Master Plan due to their visual impacts and the plan’s policy that calls for maintaining the rural character of Routt County. However, Winser added that the county has recently made “concessions to that policy for the greater good of the county and the development of infrastructure.”

Winser told the commissioners Sept. 26 that the county discourages location of a wireless facility in close proximity to neighborhoods and prefers that towers be placed in industrial districts and co-located on existing cell towers when possible.

The debate over Union’s plans for a single tower comes not long after AT&T/Cingular won county approval for nine new cell towers in Routt County in 2012 in part by locating them along heavily traveled road corridors. A representative of AT&T/Cingular told county officials the towers were suitable for co-location by other providers.

This time, Union will present detailed site and engineering plans as well as photographic images showing how the monopine would look standing above the mix of aspens on the ridge top where it would be located. Union will also present photographs showing that a mix of aspen and evergreen trees does exist in the vicinity.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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