AT&T Requests to Build 130-Foot Cell Tower in Canby, Disguised as a Douglas Fir

AT&T has requested permission to build a 130-foot-tall tree in the heart of Canby, just south of Highway 99E. If you need to go back and re-read that first sentence, hey — we understand.

It’s not actually a tree, of course, though in the renderings submitted by the telecommunications giant, it looks remarkably like one.

In reality, it’s a cellphone tower made to resemble a Douglas fir, and one that would greatly improve the wireless telephone coverage and 4G data network in town and throughout the surrounding area.

The pole, or “trunk,” would be painted brown, with all of the antennae and other equipment painted green to resemble branches. There would also be decorative, faux branches, starting at approximately 40 feet in height and continuing to the top to complete the illusion.

The company calls it a stealth “monopole,” or “monofir,” and if approved, it would be built on a relatively small footprint (approximately 750 square feet) on the property of the existing Pacific Pride commercial fueling station on SW 2nd Ave., which would remain.

As the great poet Joyce Kilmer once wrote, “I think that I shall never see, a pole as lovely as a monofir.”

The following photos are “simulations” from the company that were included in their application to the city:

The location and height are crucial aspects of the project. The tower needs to be located approximately in the center of the targeted area in which the company would like to improve 4G LTE coverage and capacity, which in this case is from South Ivy Street to Barlow Road, including Canby High School and businesses along Highway 99E.

It also has to be taller than everything else around it to, in the company’s words, “clear the clutter.” Buildings, hills, bridges and other structures, along with, you know, real trees, can weaken or even block wireless signals, so this tower needs to be taller than all of that stuff.

What this all boils down to is a fairly significant change to the south Canby skyline along Highway 99E. Though trees are already visible in various places along with the existing businesses, this “monopole” would be noticeably taller and visually distinct from those trees, many of which are deciduous, not conifers.

The company says the new structure is needed because portions of Highway 99E currently have “minimal to no 4G voice service,” and AT&T’s existing coverage is at or near capacity in this area. The company identified this area of need through analysis of market demands, customer complaints, service requests and other data.

The land is zoned for commercial/manufacturing, which does allow some telecommunications facilities. However, a tower over 100 feet in height is not an outright permitted use, so this project would require a conditional use permit from the Canby Planning Commission.

It would also require what’s known as a “major variance.” The city’s municipal code typically requires a 1-1 height-setback ratio, meaning, for example, that a 50-foot structure would require a minimum 50 feet of setback from adjacent properties.

The reasoning behind this is fairly straightforward: if such a structure ever fell over, a 1-1 setback would, at least, prevent it from falling onto its neighbors.

For various reasons, this rule presents difficulties for this project. A property with 130 feet of setback on all sides would be over an acre and a half in size, and that’s simply not likely to be found anywhere within AT&T’s targeted service area along Highway 99E.

“Strict application of the 1-1 height setback on this or another site would effectively deprive AT&T of constructing a new [wireless telecommunications systems] facility within the targeted search ring that would provide the needed services in the targeted service area,” the company said.

To mitigate potential issues, the company agreed to design the monopole in such a way that it would collapse at a specifically engineered “break-point” in the unlikely event that a structural failure occurs. This would cause it to collapse over itself into a designated fall zone, instead of the entire 130-foot facility falling onto the subject property and adjacent parcels.

The company also says the pole would not negatively impact the high school, the northernmost edge of which is only 250 feet away. Indeed, “the improved cell service provided by the facility would better service the high-volume telephone and data needs generated by the school,” the company said.

The project is scheduled for a public hearing before the planning commission at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 in the city council chambers of the Canby Civic Building on NE 2nd Avenue.

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