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Cell tower in Highland Pines gets go-ahead from supes
Aesthetics trumped by safety

Illustration of cell phone towers in Prescott. (Courier)

Illustration of cell phone towers in Prescott. (Courier)

Why are more cell towers going up in populated areas?

It’s a capacity issue, not a coverage issue.

Because there is a finite number of phones that can be connected to a tower at any particular time, and because the number of devices continues to grow, you quickly can start to run out of capacity at the particular cell sites, said Verizon spokesman Steve Van Dinter.

To fix the problem, companies can either buy more spectrum, the number of radio frequency channels licensed through the radio carrier — very expensive and therefore, cost-prohibitive — or shrink the cell size itself to allow more users within a smaller area, and add more towers.

“As you’re traveling across the country, for instance, you might sometimes have five bars showing, but the picture is not going through. It is a capacity issue, not a coverage issue,” Van Dinter said.

Visualize a two-lane highway that grows congested with more and more traffic.

“It’s no different than adding new lanes on the highway,” he said.

Waivers, stipulations and opposition took up most of the discussion around a proposed cell tower in Highland Pines at the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors July 3 meeting.

In the end, lack of cell service won out over the scenery in the forested neighborhood of Highland Pines to the west of Prescott.

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it in the view shed. I don’t like any of it. I can tell you, working in Skull Valley and Kirkland for many years, there is no cell service,” said Supervisor Tom Thurman before voting to approve the application. “I believe the view shed is trumped by safety.”

Pinnacle Consulting, Inc.’s proposed 150-foot monopole cellular tower would stand on a 3.6-acre privately owned parcel on North Skyline Drive off Iron Springs Road.

The application has come before the county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission twice, once in March when the commission came up with several conditions, and then voted 6 to 1 in favor of recommending approval to the supervisors, and again in June after the supervisors sent it back to P&Z.

P&Z looked at the matter again this past month because the applicants failed to request a setback waiver. County zoning ordinance requires a 10-foot setback for every foot in height from other residential properties if the proposed property is within 1,000 feet of a residential structure.

Dean and Janis Schlarbaum had notified Development Services staff that their property is 1,170 feet from the proposed tower. David Williams, director of Development Services, said he added the waiver request and the requirement for an engineer’s letter certifying proof of collapse. The P&Z commissioners voted 6-2 to recommend approval June 21.

The Schlarbaums and their attorney, Robert Miller, continued to oppose the tower, stating they have yet to see an engineer’s letter. They also wanted to know what other locations the company had looked at before choosing this property.

Michelle Lamoureux, with Pinnacle Consulting, acknowledged this location was not number one on the list, and there was nothing in the code saying other locations that were not selected had to be listed.

“If others don’t work, they don’t work,” Lamoureux said.

In answer to a question by Highland Pines resident Ken Karkula, who would like to see the lines buried, Lamoureux said it would be up to the forest service officials to decide whether the lines would be above or below ground, and that the company was working with them.

She also said there would be a lightning rod attached to the tower, and no aviation lights on top were required. Even though P&Z Commissioners had recommended a waiver of screening requirements to allow a chain link fence, the company was willing to build a solid wall fence around the base.

The supervisors also asked for a 100-foot firebreak around the equipment compound to be cleared of vegetation.

Vice Chair Randy Garrison said Cottonwood recently had a cell tower built in the middle of town that looked like “a tree found in no forest in the world.”

“Nobody wants it visible in their backyard, but we all want phone service, especially in emergencies,” Garrison said. “I have to support it.”

Supervisor Jack Smith indicated he could go either way on the vote.

With the removal of the screening waiver and the addition of the firebreak, the supervisors voted 4-0 in favor of the application. Chair Rowle Simmons recused himself from discussion and vote saying he was formerly an agent with Verizon, and now has a tenant as a Verizon customer.

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