A group of Post Falls residents is up in arms over a proposal to put a cellular phone tower in their residential neighborhood.
AirTouch Cellular wants to put a 150-foot pole and accompanying outbuilding near Idaho Avenue and 21st Street.
But residents complain that the metal utility belongs in commercial or industrial areas - not near their homes.
“It’s ugly. It’s huge. It’s bigger than all the trees,” said resident Janice Husmann, who has gathered signatures from 75 residents opposed to the tower. “It looks like a big radar warning system.”
City leaders contend they’re required to let companies put up their towers somewhere, and there are limits to where the towers can go that will do any good.
The resulting battle is a local version of one that’s increasingly common as the rise in wireless telephone use meets government efforts to increase telecommunications competition.
Buoyed by passage of last year’s federal Telecommunications Act, local and national telephone companies are increasingly vying to provide cellular service to smaller markets. Each, it seems, needs its own systems of antennae.
The result is a boom in the giant towers.
Downtown Coeur d’Alene has three. More than 20 dot the Spokane skyline. Post Falls already has four, not counting two in the rural areas outside city limits - and that’s just in the past six months.
“I think you’ll find cell towers are being sited in all types of environments in all types of communities,” said Post Falls planner Collin Cole.
Last year, two Puget Sound cities - Lynnwood and the Bellevue suburb Medina - and the city of Spokane declared moratoriums on the towers while they struggled to develop regulations to control their placement.
Spokane eventually adopted regulations requiring a hearing, special homelike paint schemes and landscaping before towers can be used in residential neighborhoods.
Coeur d’Alene is working on similar regulations.
In Post Falls, all existing towers are in commercial areas.
AirTouch’s proposed location is near a suburban street because that’s where land was available and where the tower would link signals.
“If you looked at a radio frequency map it looks like a honeycomb,” said Rod Michaelis, a consultant working with AirTouch. “For somebody to have a cell phone, they want it to work in Post Falls, and Hayden Lake and Coeur d’Alene. That means towers. We have some flexibility in where they can go, but not a great amount.”
In metropolitan areas, the limits to where a tower can be sited range from inside one particular building to a few blocks. In rural areas, depending on geography, it could range to a mile.
In some areas, antennae are on water tanks or existing buildings. But that doesn’t always work.
“If it’s too high, it overlaps with others and you get cross-talk,” Michaelis said. “If it’s too low, the signal doesn’t go far enough.”
None of that satisfies Husmann and her neighbors.
“Everybody is up in arms about this thing,” she said. “It doesn’t belong here. It’s going to be an eyesore.”
Michaelis compared the problem to one associated with power lines: “Nobody wants to see them but everyone likes the service.”
But Husmann responded, “If they do this one, they’ll do another one. And they’re already popping up all over the place.”
City planning commissioners will consider the tower Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall on Spokane Street.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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