Mat-Su Borough considers tall tower regulations

ANCHORAGE — A month after a nearly 200-foot communications tower fell near Willow, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough committee is preparing to recommend new regulations for oversight of tall towers.

The five-member Tall Towers Advisory Committee is considering draft language that would require companies to notify property owners within 600 feet of a new tower before they begin construction, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/1aIc4HS). The company could build the tower 30 days later.

Still to be decided is whether the committee will recommend setbacks to protect residents.

The AT&T Alascom tower near Willow collapsed in a wind storm Oct. 25. High winds combined with rain-soaked ground likely caused the collapse of the 188-foot structure, said borough development services manager Alex Strawn. AT&T crews are installing a temporary tower.

The borough removed all regulations for tall towers two years ago. The assembly said at the time it wanted to create an “open for business” climate. The assembly also got rid of public notification and comment.

Public complaints of safety concerns and diminished property values followed, but so did tower construction. Borough officials don’t know how many towers went up when the rules disappeared

Assembly members last year approved a new ordinance based on May 2010 recommendations of a two-year borough tower working group. A single-user tower taller than 85 feet now required a conditional-use permit, which mandate public hearings. After a month, the assembly reinstated a 1999 towers ordinance defining a tall tower as one greater than 100 feet.

Draft language for a new measure would repeal the conditional-use permit requirement and the obligation for the borough to consider public comment.

Committee member Rick Brenden, citing the Willow tower collapse, said the new measure should include a setback provision equal to the height of the tower.

“It reinforces my point. Towers do fall long and flat and they shouldn’t be placed near homes,” Brenden said Thursday. “My point is, if you put up a tower on your property, keep it on your property. If you want it over your house, that’s your business.”

Committee member Ken Slauson, a retired emergency responder, said he’s wary of creating unintended side effects and de facto zoning. A full tower-height setback could sharply limit tower sites, he said. It might even affect trees.

“If the idea here is safety, that we’re trying to make sure something heavy doesn’t fall on your neighbor’s house, then what’s the greatest danger?” he asked. “Trees are a lot harder and fall down a lot more. If towers need a separate setback then I guess we better be clear-cutting all the trees.”

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