What the Crowley cell towers would have looked like, had they been approved. (Image: Mono County)
Use permit denied for proposed Crowley cell towers
Can you hear them now? The opposition to the proposed installation of one, possibly two, 60-foot “mono pine” cell towers in Crowley Lake drowned out any other voices during the Mono County Planning Commission’s continued public meeting Thursday night. In the packed Crowley Community Center, after a meeting that ran 5 hours, planners voted to deny the use permit application on a narrow 3-2 vote.
Developer Incline Partners had recently inked a lease agreement on a 6.4-acre, 2,400 square foot rectangle of mixed-use commercial/residential zoned property across from the Verizon switching center and next to the Wash All Laundromat site, owned by the Czeschins.
John Peterson, a top executive with Incline Partners, kept his comments simple, mentioning previous failed attempts at bringing cell coverage to the U.S. 395 and greater Crowley areas. He also pointed out that the Czeschin property affords access to fiber optic lines, located at the Verizon switching station across the street. He also said Incline has already met with Robert Volker from Digital 395, which will bring true 4G capability once it’s installed.
Deputy County Counsel Stacey Simon advised the Commission that it is prohibited from denying the use permit on any grounds having to do with EMF radiation, over which the Federal Communications Commission claims sole jurisdiction. Peterson commented that the FCC has ruled that the technology Incline would use require no special [permitting] and is ‘deemed safe’ above 30 feet. He indicated that only about 2.1% of the public is exposed at maximum power output, which he added isn’t likely to happen.
Supporters of the project pointed to improved safety that could be gained by more coverage. Rick Phelps mentioned historic fears of new technology, including the light bulb and the steam engine. He also pointed out visual impacts that are accepted as part of daily life, such as light poles, dumpsters, yards “in need of TLC,” not to mention “one of the biggest, U.S. 395!” And, while supporters didn’t contest potential property value impacts, Phelps added that in terms of property values, “I can’t imagine a realtor promoting not having decent cell service.”
Visual impacts, however, were very important to John and Victoria Rawson, who led the charge against the towers. The Rawsons, who live about 175 feet from proposed site, think the project would amount to “an eyesore, the mitigation for which is a few aspen trees.” Victoria described the perceived view of the towers from her home as “redwoods … reaching into the sky and blocking her view,” something she never imagined would happen 17 years ago when they bought the home.
The Rawson’s house is on the market, and both Victoria and John read letters from local realtors who think the towers would be a detriment to property values. The Rawson charged they would stand to lose $120,000 on their home if the towers were approved.
County staff didn’t go into much detail regarding several other sites that have been explored and ruled out for various reasons, though Long Valley Fire Chief Fred Stump explained the bureaucratic entanglements involved in trying to locate towers on the fire station site, which have driven off developers mostly due to too many agencies, and the amount of time and money it would take to clear all the hurdles.
In Commission deliberations, Commission Chair Steve Shipley suggested the towers are “not a Crowley issue, but a Mono County issue,” adding his apprehension that this same type of scenario could play out in other communities. He was also critical of the height of the towers and the minimal amount of setback, especially in a commercial zone. Commissioner Scott Bush lamented the lack of alternative sites, but considered safety access “a big deal.” While he sympathized with those worried about property values, he related that a house where he grew up was situated next to a grape vineyard, which is now a huge high school. “Visual blight goes with every shopping center, hospital. Everything is going to visually impact someone. I’m inclined to support it. I can’t find enough reason to deny it.”
Commissioners Chris Lizza and Mary Pipersky both suggested there are better places for the towers, and that Incline’s project may not be the best the community can get. Both advocated more alternatives. Commissioner Dan Roberts disagreed. “If I had to look at them, I’d be upset, too. It may not be the best the community could get, but we want the benefits of a cellular phone system, and that comes with the visual impacts. I’m inclined to support it, even with the drawbacks.”
The Commission voted to deny the use permit application on grounds of gross violation of design and setback guidelines, a poor location (Lizza), aesthetics (Pipersky) and conflicts with the General Plan passed 3-2, with Bush and Roberts dissenting. It remains to be seen what Incline’s next move is. One resource still left to the company is an appeal of the Commission’s denial that would go before the Board of Supervisors.