Some Crowley Lake residents would rather remain in their cell phone dead zone than put up with two towers smack dab in the middle of their neighborhood. Mono County Planning commissioners supported them when they denied a permit to build the towers on Crowley Lake Drive, concluding a meeting last night (Thursday, April 14) at the Crowley Lake Community Center. Area residents who spoke at the meeting sided 14 to 9 against the permit, as they addressed a standing-room-only crowd of more than 60 concerned residents.
In February, a report to the commissioners that cited potential impacts of the towers prompted so much citizen comment that the permit process was postponed to allow time for the county to review the concerns. Community outcry considering the issues surrounding placement of the towers continued in the ensuing weeks(see Mammoth Times April 1-7) and throughout the meeting.
The permit issue had to be resolved within “a reasonable amount of time,” according to federal law, said Stacy Simon, Assistant County Counsel. During the meeting, which was held almost seven months after the application was filed last September, John Peterson (a principal with Incline Partners LLC, the applicant) requested outright approval or denial of the project. After two and a half hours of public comment, the permit request was denied.
Reasons given by the commission for denial include noncompliance with the county general plan, aesthetics, and inadequate setbacks of 18 - 30 feet that would allow the 60-foot towers to damage other properties or to block roads if they were to fall. Several residents said those setbacks are in violation of the county's discretionary design guidelines.
“This is not [just] a Crowley Lake issue; this is a Mono County issue,” said commission chair Steve Shipley, a resident of Crowley Lake, as he considered the proposed setbacks. He wondered if the commission were to approve the violation of design guidelines could that approval be used later to argue for reduction of setbacks countywide.
Commissioner Mary Pipersky said, “I don’t see this as anyone here wanting to deny anyone cell service.” She listed problems with the application and asked, “Is this the best we can do for this community?”
Commissioners Scott Bush and Daniel Roberts supported the project. Roberts said the struggle to provide cell phone service to the area had been an “uphill battle for a number of years,” even though he observed that the 'phony' pine-tree design of the towers would increase the mass of their visual impact.
Residents who spoke in support of the project cited the need for immediate access to emergency services, the scarcity of alternative sites (which must provide proper zoning, a willing landlord, line-of-sight exposure to the area to be served, and access to electrical and fiber optic facilities), the economic advantage of relinquishing land lines, and the value of attracting to the community the quality of jobs and skills that rely on cell service.
Commissioners’ votes were tempered by federal law which requires that “local agencies may not deny an application to site a cell tower based on concerns over radio frequency (RF] emissions.” Simon further explained that improper bases for permit denial include concerns about RF risk not only to humans, but also to flora, fauna, and even property values based on perceived harm. Such concerns are under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission and so must be addressed solely to them, she said. Even so, residents expressed their concerns about all of the above during the meeting.
Simon said that although the Planning Commission is the decision maker in the permit application process, their decision could be appealed to the Mono County Board of Supervisors.