Taking a stand

Citizens' appeal group claims indirect victory in effort for new tower ordinance

Posted: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The residents who fought a permit for a proposed 150-foot WiMAX communication tower on Mendenhall Loop Road are poised to lose their appeal case, but are claiming an indirect victory in their months-long battle because it's led officials to begin crafting better guidelines for tower placement.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The Juneau Assembly released its eight-page proposed decision on the citizens' appeal last week. It's not official until the Assembly votes on it, but city lawyers wrote it based on the Assembly's direction. The Assembly is expected to take it up at their next regular meeting July 13.

The proposed decision upholds the Juneau Planning Commission's Jan. 13 decision to grant a conditional use permit for a tower sought by AT&T Alascom. A conditional use permit is necessary because the site, located near Glacier Valley Baptist Church, is zoned for residential development.

The appellants fear the impact towers will have on neighborhood aesthetics and property values.

"I think people by and large are not aware of how tall a 150-foot unbuffered pole really is going to be when it's just 25 feet from the curb. And the thing is, you can't really know until it's there. And then it's too late," said appellant Ruth Danner.

They've also expressed concerned about their gradual proliferation under lax and uncoordinated regulations.

"In fact, that really was the primary piece of our goal. So we can declare victory and move on," Danner said, half-jokingly, referring to an effort already underway to write a new tower ordinance.

Dale Pernula, director of the city's community development office, said his staff began researching options for it at the Planning Commission's direction about a month or two ago, and have been working with the appellants to craft it.

Right now, "There's not a lot of guidelines," Pernula said.

The Assembly's proposed decision specifically states that it will look to the commission for recommendations on such an ordinance.

Some extra requirements being researched for tall towers in residential areas include better concealment or disguising them as trees, Pernula said.

Meanwhile, a similar permitting decision before the Planning Commission on a 180-foot tower on Montana Creek Road, also sought by AT&T, has been on hold since the commission's Jan. 13 meeting. George Danner, Ruth's husband, said climbing the legal and procedural learning curve in fighting the first tower has prepared them for a second fight.

"Everything we did was homework for the second tower," he said. "When you've got that much time invested, it would be foolish (not to)."

The appellants have the option to appeal the Assembly's quasi-judicial decision into the actual court system, though Ruth Danner said that decision has not been made.

"When we first did appeal, we did it because we thought we were doing it for the benefit of all of Juneau. We won't take it any farther unless all of Juneau wants us to take it farther. Or at least a substantial piece of Juneau," she said.

• Contact Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.comjeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.

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