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What: Routt County commissioners hear Union Wireless appeal over Planning 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
Steamboat Springs Union Wireless officials will be back before the Routt County Commission Tuesday afternoon, appealing, for the second time, a narrow decision by the County Planning Commission to reject its application for a permit to build a 50-foot cell phone tower resembling a pine tree in the middle of a rural subdivision seven miles south of Steamboat Springs.
This time around, the wireless provider will be armed with a petition the company says was signed by 249 people favoring the new tower, including seven people who live within a half mile of it.
The proposal was roundly opposed by the Hilton Gulch and Big Valley ranch neighborhoods in the initial Planning Commission hearing on Sept. 13, leading to a 4-3 vote of denial. That kicked off a process that now has stretched over 20 weeks.
The September hearing was sprinkled with profanity from among some of the 40 members of the audience and lasted two-and-a-half hours.
Staff planner Kristy Winser told county commissioners Monday that the extra branches needed to obscure views of the "monopine" style cell tower's antennae would actually bring its height to a little more than 50 feet. The commissioners seemed unconcerned with that detail.
However, Commissioner Doug Monger sent a signal that while he intends to hear extended public comment during Tuesday afternoon’s public hearing, he won’t entertain long-winded presentations. He was told by Winser that she was aware of four people who intend to speak from 5 to 10 minutes and another six individuals who plan to make presentations of about 5 minutes each.
“I don’t think we have time for 10 minutes per presentation,” Monger said. “I don’t know what the distinction is,” between presentations and regular public comment.
Monger’s colleagues Tim Corrigan and Steve Ivancie agreed they would afford Union up to 10 minutes to make a presentation, and another 10 minutes for formal statements of opposition from one or two parties. Beyond that, members of the public will be asked to limit their remarks and avoid repetition.
Union is seeking the county permit for the tower so that it can better serve the U.S. HIghway 40 corridors south of Steamboat and aim digital cellphone data at a microwave tower above 10,500 feet on Walton Peak. The company confused the initial Planning Commission hearing by introducing changes to its proposal at the last minute, saying it would reduce the tower's height from 80 feet to 50 feet and modify the lattice-style tower to a monopine meant to help it blend into the surroundings.
In September, some Planning Commission members were leaning toward tabling the proposal so that they could take the changes into account, but a motion by commissioner Tom Effinger to deny the permit passed 4-3. He relied on the county master plan to conclude that the new tower would “contribute to the degradation of the natural environment (with the potential for) adding to noise and visual pollution.”
When Union appealed the decision to the full board of county commissioners Nov. 12, it determined that it would have been better procedure for Planning Commission to have tabled the initial proposal, and instead, have taken the time to evaluate the proposed changes. The issue was kicked back to Planning Commission Nov. 5.
On Dec. 5, that body reached the same decision it had back in September, but not until a motion to approve the proposal by commissioner Richard Klumker failed by a 5-4 vote.
Ultimately, Effinger’s vote to deny the proposal passed 5-4.
The Routt County Commission could have the final say in the matter tonight.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1