PINETOP-LAKESIDE — Representatives for Smith Bagley, Inc. d/b/a Cellular One of North East AZ, appeared before the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 25 with two requests, both requiring public hearings. The first request was for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to erect a cellphone/EMS tower on property at Mountain Meadow Recreation Complex (MMRC) on Woodland Lake Road, and the second, for a Variance review for that tower to be 80 feet higher than the 100 feet allowed by town code.
Community Development Director Cody Blake explained that the tower would be located in the back parking lot of MMRC in the southeast corner, behind the existing garbage enclosure. He said the property is zoned R-Low (Residential, Low Density) which allows for wireless communication facilities with towers up to 100 feet.
The tower is needed to improve cell phone service in the area to alleviate dropped calls which include EMS and 911 calls. The tower would also be designed as a co-location tower, allowing other companies onto the tower.
Blake explained that though it is normal to send out letters to property owners that are within 300 feet of the proposed tower location, the letter was sent to everyone within 400 feet because the tower size extends boundaries. He said they received two emails objecting to the tower and one letter stating they were OK with the tower and the height.
Blake said they looked at other locations within the park but the northern part has a riparian area, and there are also plans for a future parking lot there. Other areas explored did not meet the accessibility requirements needed for tower maintenance.
Blake said that Cellular One will put up a chain link fence around the area. The town wants a split-face block fence – something you can’t see through – as well as additional landscaping for safety and aesthetics. The fence would be 7 feet high. He said they have checked and have no safety concerns as the tower structure foundation will be required to meet all code requirements and engineering standards.
Dennis Baker with Cellular One explained that the smaller flag pole technology they previously used around 2006 or 2007, located at Yosippity’s, Mahoney Group, Pinetop Country Club and Blue Ridge High School, no longer fits with the new technology. He said they now have to get above the trees and the terrain. He also said that safety is a big issue with him and they will have barbed wire at the top of the fence and will remove the climbing pegs so that a ladder will have to be used.
“AT&T FirstNet is pushing us out of those flag poles,” said Baker. “They are doing a national strict service and network for emergency service – police and fire and ambulance.” He said AT&T FirstNet would go on the tower first. A space would be offered to Verizon next.
Two people spoke at the public hearing regarding the CUP, Paul Adams of Zuni Lane, and Maureen Serrano of Woodland Road.
Adams, questioning the number of calls actually dropped, said he has no problem with cell service in the area. He did express, however, concern about a 180 foot tower being in the middle of the park during monsoon season with lightning. He also said, “I don’t want to look at a 180 foot tower the rest of my life and there is no aesthetic value to it.”
Serrano, a realtor, said she has owned her property before the town was a town, “and, we are not happy about a tower going in right next to us and it will affect adversely our property value.”
Serrano said she is not opposed to the tower and suggested there might be another place in the park for it. She also expressed concern of possible health risks with the tower.
Cell One’s RF Engineer Mark Lane was asked about the health risk and said that though he is no expert many studies had been done – one in particular – that shows a tower poses no health risks.
The commissioners inquired about other park locations for the tower and Blake responded to their suggestions saying he was willing to look further but the locations are very limited. Most of the areas suggested by the commissioners had been considered but they all had issues ranging from access to the ball and soccer field to park storage to drainage issues.
The commissioners unanimously approved the CUP for the requested location with the stipulation that other locations be explored before the July 2 council and Board of Adjustment meetings, and that the facility must have a split- faced concrete block wall to fence in the area; trees must be planted no more than 10 feet apart outside the fenced area to provide screening to the wall within 6 months of the completion of construction, and Cellular One will be responsible to move an existing Frisbee golf basket to a new location as directed by the town’s park staff.
There were no comments in the public hearing for the Variance issue and Blake said the town will enter into a five year lease agreement with Cellular One, with renewability options for around $800 a month to the town.
Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend to the Board of Adjustment that the 180 foot tower be erected. The Board of Adjustments will meet following the July 2 town council meeting.