A planned cell tower atop Spokane’s Grandview-Thorpe neighborhood has raised the ire of nearby residents and gotten the attention of City Council members, but city planners say the appeal process has been closed for months and the deal is done.
Neighbors of the proposed 60-foot tower first heard about its construction last August, when a contractor for Verizon Wireless notified them that it planned to build a standalone cellular array in an empty residential lot on West 22nd Avenue.
A group of about 10 residents canvassed the neighborhood and contacted their neighborhood council, the Center for Justice and their council members, Jon Snyder and Mike Allen.
Inga Laurent, an assistant professor at Gonzaga’s School of Law, wrote a letter to city planner Dave Compton asking the city to deny Verizon’s application, saying that “in addition to health, safety and environmental concerns (the sum of which should be enough to preclude this action), there are several code compliance issues.”
In her letter, Laurent said the tower was not suitable for a residential neighborhood, and that it would be located too close to homes. Though she wrote the letter in September, Laurent said she has yet to hear from the city.
“This was a letter with a very specific purpose,” Laurent said. “I heard nothing back. I believe the letter preserved our right to appeal the decision.”
Tami Palmquist, an associate planner with the city, said the project was approved on Nov. 3, and the appeal deadline was Nov. 17.
Palmquist said it’s nearly impossible for a city to deny a cell tower application, due to federal law.
“We cannot deny a cell tower unless it’s not meeting the prescribed criteria we have,” she said. “They’re going to do what they need to to meet our requirements.”
Councilman Jon Snyder, who worked with Laurent and others to block the tower, agreed.
“We don’t have the ability to flatly deny when someone applies for a cellphone tower,” he said, noting that he thought cell towers didn’t fit into residential neighborhoods.
“The problem is putting a cellphone tower right up in the middle of single family residential neighborhoods,” he said. “Not looking nice is part of it. It’s jarring. We have design guidelines for towers that look like trees. But they don’t really look like trees. They look like cellphone towers.”
The Verizon tower is a “monopine,” a “stealth” tower that is intended to look like a tree.
Scott Charlston, a spokesman with Verizon, said he didn’t know the specifics of this particular tower, but he noted that “consumer demand for wireless services is growing at a rapid rate, as it has been for a number of years.”
Snyder and Laurent both mentioned putting the cellular array on a nearby water tower, a common practice in Spokane.
Palmquist said the water tower has reached its maximum of arrays, and couldn’t handle anymore.
Still, Laurent said the city should’ve contacted her about any decisions.
“That’s a burden shifting that the city should take responsibility for, especially when we had written in,” she said. “At least notify the people who had taken an active interest.”
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