Plan for cell towers gets poor reception

A council committee chides the notion of more cellular facilities.

To remedy the island’s sometimes spotty cell phone reception, City Councilman Jim Llewellyn had a plan: change zoning to allow for more cell towers.

The response this week from his colleagues on the Land Use Committee came through loud and clear.

“This stinks of lame duck,” said Bill Knobloch, sitting in for Debbie Vancil. “A councilman trying to get something through at the last minute.”

Llewellyn, who chose not to run for reelection, is nearing the end of his time on the council.

That and a slew of other concerns led to the committee’s unanimous recommendation to reject the proposed ordinance, which would allow the installation of cell towers in the neighborhood service centers of Rolling Bay, Island Center and Lynwood Center.

As it stands, towers can only be built in light manufacturing zones and on low-density residential parcels.

The proposed ordinance would permit “facility III” communications arrays – the largest designation in the state – which can be up to 15 feet in height and as large as 100 square feet in surface area at the top of a tower or pole.

Several community members were on hand at the meeting, including some from West Blakely.

Residents there are upset over plans by Verizon Wireless to install an antenna atop a utility pole.

Doing so required extending the pole by 15 feet, which in turn obstructed the views of neighbors.

Construction was halted by the company at the request of the property owner with whom it made the arrangement.

City planners said the project complies with city code, which is why City Councilman Chris Snow, despite opposing Llewellyn’s ordinance, thinks it’s time to revisit the issue.

“I’m sure the people who’ve done this have very carefully researched the code and figured out what they can do and what they can’t do,” he said.

The city hasn’t updated its wireless communication code since 1997, according to planner Josh Machen.

One community member raised the issue that Llewellyn owns property in Island Center. His proposal, she said, because it could raise the value of his property, could be considered a conflict of interest by some.

Llewellyn this week said he would recuse himself from voting on the issue.

Knobloch said the origin of the ordinance was amiss.

“Considering the visual impact, and of course you’re going to get push-back from the neighbors, the Planning Commission at the very least should be the first one to start something like this,” he said.

Snow acknowledged the flipside of the argument, saying that cell phone reception won’t get better without placing more towers somewhere.

“There has for a long time been a great deal of unhappiness on the island with the amount of cell phone coverage that is available,” he said. “It is time for us to take another look at that.”

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