Incline Village residents appeal cell tower decision
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A controversial decision on a proposed cell tower is being appealed by residents, who argue the nearly 120-foot structure will fundamentally change the neighborhood right in the center of town.
The appeal, filed April 17 by seven local property owners, contests a split decision earlier this month by the Washoe County Board of Adjustment. With two members absent, the five-member board vote 2-1 to approve the 117-foot monopole located roughly 100 feet south of the intersection of Incline Way and Village Boulevard.
The vote came after a deluge of public comment largely calling for the board to reject the special use permit needed for the cell tower.
The arguments ranged from health concerns — a factor that the board was told not to consider, as that is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, which had already said the project fell within safe limits — to obstruction of scenic views and destruction to the neighborhood’s character.
The tower would be disguised as a tree, although it would admittedly rise above the existing tree line in the area. Slat fencing would be used around the perimeter of the site, which is currently a vacant lot adjacent to a dentist office.
The tower could hold up to four antenna arrays. The four major carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Spring and T Mobile — have all expressed interest in being on the tower, according to Incline Partners LLC, the company proposing the project.
After hearing the case for and against, board members Clay Thomas and Lee Lawrence voted in favor of the tower.
Kristina Hill, a longtime planner in the Tahoe Basin and the only board member who resides in Incline Village, voted against the project.
Hill told the Tribune that several factors played into her vote. Specifically, she said she could not agree with the necessary finding that the tower will not be detrimental to the neighborhood.
“In my opinion it’s out of scope for the neighborhood,” Hill said, adding that her own research determined that the tower would be the tallest structure in all of Incline Village.
“It’s just too big.”
She echoed remarks made by residents at the board meeting, stating that there are no real cell coverage issues in Incline Village.
“It’s a bad solution to a non-existent problem.”
Not everyone agrees with that assessment.
In remarks made during past public meetings, representatives from Incline Partners have pointed out that carriers would not be interested in making the expensive investment to be on the proposed pole if better service was not needed.
One person who spoke during public comment at the April 4 Board of Adjustment meeting said current service levels in Incline Village are not sufficient. The problem is exacerbated during peak tourism times.
The Tahoe Prosperity Center, a regional economic and community development organization, also voiced support for the project in a letter to county staff.
“The Lake Tahoe region, as a whole, receives about 15 million visitors in a year. A portion of those visitors spend their vacation in Incline Village. When this occurs, local residents and first responders experience reduced bandwidth. Residents and first responders shouldn’t have to lose cell coverage when there is an influx of visitors during holidays or summer vacation. An easy way to alleviate this is to add an additional cell tower to add capacity to this area,” Heidi Hill Drum, Tahoe Prosperity Center CEO, wrote in the letter.
Hill and others dispute the perceived need, including mapping provided by Incline Partners showing deficient coverage in large parts of the community. Rather than a lack of coverage, some residents say they see greed overriding possible health determinants.
John Petersen of Incline Partners did not respond to an email from the Tribune requesting additional comment for this story.
The appeal of the board’s decision means the Washoe County commissioners will have the ultimate say in the matter. A county spokesperson told the Tribune that the issue is tentatively being planned for the commissioners’ May 28 meeting.
Given her position on the board of adjustment, Hill said it would be inappropriate for her to speak before commissioners in opposition to the project. She added, though, that she’s hopeful.
“I hope they consider the people who live here.”