Barking Up the Wrong Tree? Planning Commission Denies AT&T’s Request for 130-Foot ‘Monofir’

Fireworks of a different sort were seen early last week at the Canby Planning Commission, as they denied the application by AT&T to build a 130-foot cell tower next to the Pacific Pride fueling station, just off Highway 99E.

The tower was intended to improve 4G cell service and capacity for AT&T users locally, an area of need that was identified through a study of market demands, customer complaints, service requests and other data.

To reduce the negative impact on the Canby skyline along Highway 99E, the company had voluntarily opted to design what they called a “stealth monopole.” Basically, it’s a cell tower made to look like a tree. In this case, a Douglas fir, which is how this particular project got its nickname: “monofir.”

And though there have been some hilariously bad attempts to disguise cell towers as trees, this one actually looked quite nice, in our opinion, on paper anyway.

And, the planning commission didn’t have any problems with the design, either. But they were skeptical of just about everything else.

Here’s Planning Commissioner Jeff Mills, who said he would vote for the facility, but “with great reluctance.”

His skepticism was shared by a number of others on the planning commission. Of particular concern was the location chosen by AT&T. City codes require a 1:1 setback, meaning a setback from neighboring properties that as least as far as the structure is tall, in this case, 130 feet.

The applicant had asked for a variance from this requirement, in exchange for a “break-point” design in which the structure was designed to fall over on itself in the event of a failure, rather than toppling onto neighboring buildings.

Even so, several commissioners were alarmed by how close this structure was to adjacent properties — as close as 13 feet — and only an estimated 50 feet from the gas pumps and fuel tanks that serve the Pacific Pride station.

There were other potential locations that the AT&T team considered within the targeted service area along Highway 99E, including one that several planning commissioners felt would be more suitable: a property adjacent to the Lovell Truck Sales lot on the other side of the highway. However, the applicant said this owner was nonresponsive.

Commissioner Derrick Mottern said if the applicant had chosen this location, he would have voted for it.

Other concerns, mainly expressed by residents who attended the hearing, were about the potential health impacts of the 4G cell tower, especially considering its proximity to the high school. AT&T responded that the radiation from cell towers is radiofrequency, or RF, and non-ionizing, and there’s no evidence that this kind of radiation is harmful or cancer-causing.

Other forms of RF radiation include FM radio waves, microwaves and visible light.

The vote was ultimately 5-2 to deny the application, with only Commissioners Mills and Jennifer Trundy in favor.

AT&T will have the option to appeal to the Canby City Council after the decision is finalized on Sept. 9. Planning Director Bryan Brown said he has discussed that possibility with the applicant.

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