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Concerns Over Cell Phone Tower

A photograph of a stealth monopine cell phone tower is displayed on a cell phone as concerned neighbors of the Trinity Heights United Methodist church look over proposed plans at a meeting earlier this year.

Flagstaff City Council unanimously upheld a decision made by the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny the application of a Gilbert-based company to build a cell tower on the land of the Trinity Heights United Methodist Church north of Fourth Street.

The proposed site for the tower, which has proven controversial among neighbors, is in a residential zone that is considered a disfavored site according to city code.

This meant Pinnacle Consulting, which proposed the tower on behalf of Verizon, had to show not only there was a need for the tower but also that it had considered more favorable options and that those locations would not be adequate.

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously decided Pinnacle had failed to meet these and other requirements, including addressing some safety concerns brought up by members of the public.

Pinnacle representatives had brought new information to present to the council to help address issues brought up by members of planning and zoning commission. They were not able to present that new information, however.

This is because, as an appeal of the decision made by the Planning and Zoning commission, Council had to make its determination based on the same information that was presented to the commission.

Michelle Lameoureux, a spokesperson for Pinnacle, insisted the company had shown it had done its due diligence looking for a preferred site but that one was simply not available.

“The [city] code says whenever feasible to locate on a favored site,” Lameoureux said. “You only have a certain coverage area that you can go in, so everything in where we need to go is not considered favorable. We do believe this is the least intrusive means to meet the objective.”

“Carriers don’t build sites for fun,” Lameoureux said. “They are a business and it is to improve coverage.”

But Council disagreed and several members said they did not feel Pinnacle had shown it had done due diligence in looking for more preferred sites, or that the need for more coverage was there.

“It seems pretty clear to me that the need has not been demonstrated and that alternate sites that are more appropriate may be out there,” Councilmember Austin Aslan said. “I’m not convinced that the applicant has made its best efforts to locate a facility on a site that is less disfavored.”

Some councilmembers brought up other issues they had with the application in addition to the reasons mentioned in the commission’s denial. For example, Councilmember Jamie Whelan said she wasn’t sure she considered the radio frequency expert that Pinnacle hired to present to council as independent, which the city code requires.

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni said he had attended both planning and zoning meetings focused on the tower and also had concerns over the tower's proximity to three interstate gas pipelines.

“I think a lot of us in this room share that concern and would not want to be living close to such a concern,” Shimoni said.

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In the process of building the tower, Pinnacle had planned to run an electric utility across the three pipelines, which would require exposing the pipes and digging around them.

There are numerous places where utilities cross the pipeline, according to representatives with Kinder Morgan, which owns the pipeline, but it was nonetheless a concern of councilmembers and nearby residents.

Before making their decision, the council heard about an hour of public comments, nearly all of which were opposed to the tower's construction.

And that may have had some influence on Council’s decision.

“If this is the least disfavored site for this cell tower, I am afraid to see how full the council chamber gets with another proposal,” Aslan said.

A representative for Trinity Heights, which had leased the portion of their property to Pinnacle, said the church’s board and essentially the entire congregation is in support of the tower's construction.

If it chooses to, Pinnacle Consulting can appeal the decision yet again, this time in the Coconino Superior Court.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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