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Mon, Jan. 18

City puts cell tower on hold

Council urges alternate sites be explored

After hearing comments from the public opposing a 250-foot cell tower proposed near the Garland Prairie exit of Interstate 40, Williams City Council voted to table the project until other potential sites can be explored.

American Tower sought a conditional use permit (CUP) for the Garland Prairie tower during a public hearing portion of Thursday’s regularly scheduled city council meeting at city hall.

The tower, 30 feet at its base, was proposed for a private-property site south of Mountainman Trail (the frontage road south of I-40) and west of Garland Prairie Road. It would have the capacity to accommodate five cellular communications carriers. To conform with FAA (Federal Aviation Admini-stration) regulations, it would need a beacon on top.

American Tower, headquartered in Boston, is seeking approval for a series of towers along the I-40 corridor. In addition to two proposed within Williams city limits, the company is seeking three additional cell tower sites in northern Arizona — one at Bellemont and two east of Flagstaff.

On Dec. 14, city council approved American Tower’s request for a CUP to construct a 150-foot communications tower near the city wastewater treatment plant north of I-40 and west of Airport Road. The city will receive a one-time up-front fee of $150,000 for a 30-year lease on this tower.

The same night it approved the first tower, council tabled a decision on the Garland Prairie tower to allow ample time for public input on the project.

Landowner letters

Adjacent landowners wrote two letters protesting the site, which Denise Ruhling, city planner, read at Thursday’s meeting.

"I find it very disturbing to think that another landowner could benefit monetarily more than the value of his own property, while at the same time destroy the natural beauty of this area and his neighbors’ property values along with it," said a letter from William B. Olson of Oro Valley. "My property is directly adjacent to the proposed site and a 200-plus foot tower would pose an unavoidable blemish to an otherwise beautiful piece of property that I someday hoped to settle on."

Albert (Bud) H. Parenteau Jr. and Tammie Olson-Parenteau of Williams, who reside a quarter mile from the proposed site, echoed these sentiments.

"We feel that if this cellular tower is allowed to be built at this location, it will affect our current property values and the property value of the land we hold in common with our other owners," the Parenteaus’ letter states. "It would also be an unavoidable eyesore in the midst of a beautiful area."

The Parenteaus also questioned health issues.

"Another concern we have is that though there has not yet been evidence shown that cellular signals cause health problems, there has not been evidence proving that a cellular tower poses no health threat in an immediate area," their letter states.

Public comment

Kali Kaliche, who introduced herself as a "Williams resident and local activist," strongly opposed the tower.

"The picture in the newspaper does not show what the tower will actually look like," Kaliche said. "It will be a shining, glaring, lighted tower smack in the view (of Bill Williams Mountain), not something ghostly you can barely see."

Kaliche was referring to a computer-enhanced photo, which American Tower supplied to simulate how the proposed site would appear (printed on page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition of the Williams-Grand Canyon News).

"Cell towers are a convenience and a luxury and dangerous," she said. "PCS Sprint is a very wealthy, powerful company.

"Surely they can afford to take advantage of other options."

Kaliche gave examples of similar cell towers in the vicinity of Kingman, which she considers eyesores. She said utilizing more towers hidden in the tree line would have less visual impact. She also alluded to an article, published by State Farm insurance, warning of the potential safety hazard of using a cell phone while driving.

Council comments

Dan Barnes, city councilmember, pointed out he considered his cell phone much more than a convenience when he recently broke down 17 miles out of town.

However, Barnes did suggest a different site should be considered.

"A 250-foot tower in the center of a meadow has a real detrimental impact on the view of Bill Williams Mountain," he said. "I’ve had several calls about this today myself."

Jennifer Gniffke, a construction specialist in American Tower's Gilbert office, explained why the company chose the Garland Prairie site.

"This is the best site for radio frequency propagation," she said. "We would need several shorter towers given the rolling topography."

Cary Price, councilmember, asked why the company didn’t consider High School Hill, located in town at Slagel Street and Sheridan Ave., as a possible site.

"It probably would provide a lot better coverage," Price said. "The Forest Service issued a prospectus on it and it’s still developable."

Bernie Hiemenz, vice mayor, said he thought it would be an advantage to locate the tower on top of a hill.

"This is a heated issue," said Ken Edes, mayor. "We have had several complaints."

Edes pointed out the Garland Prairie area is zoned light industrial but suggested tabling the CUP request until American Tower has time to "research the High School Hill site to see if it would suffice."

Barnes suggested looking into other sites as well and made a motion to table the matter for as long as it takes American Tower to research alternate sites. Hiemenz seconded the motion. Council gave unanimous approval.

All seven city councilmembers were present at the meeting.

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