City wants citizen input on cell tower master plan

Wireless communication tower in the Mendenhall Valley. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Wireless communication tower in the Mendenhall Valley. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Only 12 Juneau residents showed up for the first neighborhood meeting Thursday night on the CBJ wireless tower master plan. Many of them have been intimately involved in the issue for years.

The city and borough’s Community Development Department has two months to finish the policies that will guide cell tower regulations. That’s when a moratorium on tower permits will expire.

After lots of citizen angst over towers in certain neighborhoods, city officials have said they want to hear from the public.

The process includes a survey that asks for the most to least-preferred tower design, including type of tower, co-location, camouflage and screening, lights, and other ways to harmonize towers within neighborhoods.

Take for example, co-location. City planner Eric Feldt says the city master plan and ordinance will encourage companies to locate their antennas on existing towers.

“So you could have AT&T, Verizon and ACS, instead of a tower for AT&T, a tower for Verizon and a tower for ACS in one location,” Feldt says.

Collocation does have some drawbacks, says Planning Manager Travis Goddard. It requires a certain distance between the antennas so towers are taller.

“Say a 140-foot tower could have an antenna array at 140 feet, 130 feet,  120 feet, 110 feet. So it depends on the type of antenna and the type of structure,” Goddard explains. “If it is the roof of a building, say the federal building, you could have two antennas right next to each other and they won’t change the height of the building.”

The tallest wireless tower in Juneau is 300 feet on North Douglas Highway.

Goddard says the surveys and comments from last night’s meeting will be synthesized and sent to the Planning Commission and Assembly, which will hold several work sessions and public hearings on the master plan and ordinance.

The Spuhn Island cell tower has a constant flashing red light at night and a white strobe during the day. (Photo courtesy Jon Lyman)

The Spuhn Island cell tower has a constant flashing red light at night and a white strobe during the day. (Photo courtesy Jon Lyman)

North Douglas resident Doug Mertz has been battling the 150-foot Spuhn Island cell tower for more than a year.

Like many residents who see the flashing lights every few seconds, 24-hours a day, Mertz feels they haven’t been heard.  So he’s glad for the survey process, which he calls awkward, but necessary.

“Democracy is messy. The only thing I could ask for in the whole process that would be better is a more open attitude by the city manager’s office. So far, every time we’ve interacted with them on cell tower issues, we’ve gotten animosity and negativism,” he said.

But Mertz says CBJ Community  Development is working hard to reconcile citizens’ various concerns on cell towers.

Patricia Wherry says she’s affected by any tower that goes up in Juneau, no matter where it’s located. She was disappointed so few people came to the meeting. She says she likes the process city planners are using for citizen input.

“I like that they’re trying to explain to us the specifics.  They’re asking us for a gradated opinion. They’re here to answer questions. They’re doing a good job of that; they’re trying,” Wherry says.

 CBJ community planners will hold another neighborhood meeting on March 27th at the University of Alaska Southeast.  Later today (Friday), Goddard says, the survey will be on the city website.

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