Washoe County commissioners reject proposal to build 117-foot-tall cell phone tower at Lake Tahoe
RENO, Nev. — Amid a chorus of opposition Tuesday, Washoe County commissioners overturned the previous approval of a special use permit for a proposed 117-foot-tall cell phone tower.
The unanimous decision by commissioners reverses a previous approval by the Washoe County Board of Adjustment and effectively squashes — barring a lawsuit — the project as it currently stands.
The company behind the project argued the 117-foot monopole, which is essentially a cell tower disguised as a tree, would provide coverage and capacity currently lacking in the community.
It would be located roughly 100 feet south of the intersection of Incline Way and Village Boulevard in the center of town, and able to support up to four carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
Residents and property owners, some of whom disputed the need for improved cell phone coverage in the Incline Village/Crystal Bay area, argued the size of the proposed tower and the location would be detrimental to the character of the neighborhood.
“I cannot support this,” said Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler, whose district includes Incline Village and Crystal Bay.
The proposal failed to fulfill all the findings needed to approve the project, according to Berkbigler. (Possible health concerns were not supposed to factor into commissioners’ decision, as that topic falls under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission.)
The project failed to meet the finding of consistency with the area plan, because the plan currently is being crafted by the county. Without a final plan, one cannot conclude the project is consistent with it, Berkbigler said.
The commissioner also stated she did not find the site to be suitable for a large telecommunications tower, which was another one of the findings the applicant needed to fulfill.
While voicing support for cell towers and monopoles in general, Berkbigler sided with residents and property owners who questioned the need for improved coverage in the area.
Board Chair Vaughn Hartung said he did not think the proposal was “stealthy” enough, while Commissioner Jeanne Herman noted the lopsided feelings expressed by community members.
She pegged the public opinion, based on emails and other correspondences, at 100-1 against the project.
The 5-0 decision by commissioners Tuesday means the project, as it currently stands, will not move forward.
Incline Village Partners LLC, the company seeking to build the monopole, could pursue civil litigation and seek to have a court overturn the decision.
John Peterson of Incline Partners did not immediately return a voicemail Tuesday afternoon seeking comment on the company’s intentions going forward.
Opposition out in numbers
Opposition to the project, as has been the case through the permitting process, was vocal Tuesday.
Community member Sara Schmitz said she is not opposed to improved cell coverage, but she did oppose the proposed location.
“Does this sound like an improvement to our community?” she asked. “No.”
Pete Todoroff, chair of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Citizens Advisory Board, expressed safety concerns.
He held up a piece of a fake branch that fell off another monopole in the area. In guessing the piece weighed about 5 pounds, Todoroff said it likely would have killed somebody had it hit them in the head.
Invoking the words of Mark Twain, Richard Miner said the tower would be a blemish on the area’s natural beauty. Miner, a past president of the Incline Village-Crystal Bay Historical Society, argued there are other locations that would be less detrimental.
Others spoke about the possible negative impact on property values for homes and businesses near the proposed site.
And on it went, with more than 15 community members speaking against the project.
Incline Village Partners has repeatedly refuted many of the opposition’s arguments, and it continued to do so Tuesday.
The company’s Michael Flynn pointed to a different tower proposal by Verizon Wireless in the Tunnel Creek area as an example of an inferior project.
That proposal has drawn far less criticism from the community.
But, Flynn argued, it would be more disruptive to the scenic nature of the area and less beneficial. Verizon would be the only carrier on the Tunnel Creek tower, while the larger tower proposed by Incline Village Partners would be able to support up to four carriers.
Flynn’s points, however, failed to convince the commissioners, who unanimously overturned the previous approval of the special use permit by the board of adjustment.
The five-member board of adjustment approved the special use permit in April on a 2-1 vote, with the lone dissenting vote coming from Kristina Hill, the only board member who resides in Incline Village.
A group of residents and property owners appealed the decision, which set the stage for Tuesday’s discussion. The decision by commissioners ignited cheers and applause from the community members who traveled to Reno and spoke against the proposal.
If the decision stands, it would be at least the second time in less than a decade that members of the community have prevented construction of a new cell phone tower in the community.
AT&T dropped its bid to install a 4G tower in 2012 after residents expressed outrage over the tower’s proximity to Incline High School.
Driven largely out of concern over possible health impacts on students, members of the community quickly amassed petition signatures against the proposal.
The effort proved successful and Washoe County School District officials made it clear that the tower would not proceed. The company ultimately withdrew its application to build the tower.