By Kevin Dee
It’s not surprising that at the blistering pace internet demands, the FCC predicts a demand of one communication tower for every 75 residents. Increased access to bandwidth is an economic stimulant and educational boost for schools. Every year demands more bandwidth. Alaska is behind the curve significantly in providing bandwidth and our costs are very high compared to all other states.
If done right, towers can provide this access and be unobtrusive and discrete in their locations and visual impact. If done wrong they are eyesores that diminish property values and the views we love so much.
Throughout the state of Alaska, communities are struggling to accommodate tall towers. Juneau recently declared a temporary moratorium to redo regulations on towers and Mat-su is struggling over tower regulations.
Here in Homer, we are too. Currently, all a tower company need do is file a simple application. Unlike wind turbine applications, which have a very detailed set of city codes and requirements to follow (I know, I have one), a tall tower can be permitted without much restriction just about anywhere in Homer.
Recently, a 160-foot Microwave tower was proposed for a rural residential neighborhood off of Easy Street near Skyline Drive to deliver bandwidth to schools across the bay. The applicant applied for a Conditional Use Permit. The City Planning rules compared its 160-foot level of nuisance to a multi-family dwelling or a dog kennel. That’s right, a dog kennel! I do not think I have ever seen a 160 foot tall dog kennel with blinking lights on it, but then I suppose there could be one somewhere. Do they have doggy elevators?
A 160 foot tall multi-family building is called a skyscraper. Communities across the country with their senses and regulations about them compare a 160 foot tower to a 160 foot building and require technical reviews and strongly consider visual impact. This specific subdivision prohibits towers, but no consideration of covenants is required. The tower company in this instance was approved for a conditional use permit by the planning commission.
Everything this for-profit tower company from Anchorage said was taken at face value, without verifying any accuracy or truth. Frankly, we are in a poor place when we trust for-profit corporations without performing due diligence, and allow them to take value from citizens.
The deciding factors were, that while it was of no benefit to Homer, it was for “the greater good” across the bay. Our process and codes regarding tall towers need to be redone and we need a 90 day timeout to redo them. Don’t get me wrong, I support this project and wish to see it happen. But why can’t we keep these growing amounts of towers in designated areas with other towers?
Tower companies and citizens both need a fair and balanced process that is predictable to industry and protects citizens from anyone taking value from them without unavoidable circumstances. In the communities where they have been successful at this, tower applicants pay a fee to cover the costs of having their application verified by professionals who understand their highly technical world, and whether their application meets code, is fit for purpose and minimizes impact. Several organizations I found will even assist cities at no cost in writing a good set of codes. Communities have gone so far as to require towers to be disguised as trees or require towers to be sited on city land where they receive considerable revenue from tower leases. I believe that with the right codes, the planning folks will have the tools to protect citizens. Everyone can win. This way we will not have to struggle with telling the difference between a 160 foot tower and a dog kennel.
This coming Monday, April 15th at 6 p.m., the city will take up the appeal for the 160-foot tower proposed for Easy Street. If no better regulations and processes are forthcoming, this will only be the beginning costly appeals and lawsuits for the many more towers to come. I invite you to contact your city council members and urge them to control the unchecked growth of tall towers
Kevin Dee, M.Ed. is the Executive Director of Ageya Wilderness Education, in business in Homer providing programs and experiences that excite and inspire through the vehicle of the natural world since 1984.
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