City Council Overturns Planning Commission in Approving 130-Foot AT&T Monopole on 99E

Ladies and gentlemen, we have mono…pole. That is, the 130-foot 4G wireless communications tower proposed by AT&T, more commonly known as a “monopole,” was approved by the Canby City Council on Wednesday.

The decision overturned an earlier ruling by the Canby Planning Commission, who had denied the request at their own hearing in August.

The tower had been proposed for a small parcel adjacent to the existing Pacific Pride commercial fueling station, near Highway 99E and Canby High School. The location was selected by AT&T engineers based on their analysis of market demands, customer complaints, service requests and other data.

Oh, also, the pole was made to look like a tree (did we forget to mention that?). AT&T elected to design a “stealth monopole,” which would be disguised as a Douglas fir, because the company felt it would be more aesthetically pleasing.

Not everyone agrees with that, as Canby resident Virginia Weller demonstrated in her comments before the council last week.

AT&T’s attorney Sara Springer, of the Busch Law Firm in Issaquah, Wash., defended her client, saying engineers had gone through several rounds of design with the help of city staff to deliver a final product that was as realistic as possible.

In the end, though, even she admitted, quote: “It’s not a real tree, and it never will be a real tree.” She said AT&T would be willing to construct a traditional cell tower if that’s what the council wanted. However, several councilors said they preferred the stealth design.

The planning commission had denied the application for several reasons, including the proximity to the existing fuel pumps, the possible availability of more suitable properties that would still fall within the targeted service area, and the impacts of telecommunication waves on people’s health — even though federal law preempts local jurisdictions from denying applications based on this concern.

At the city council meeting, Springer demonstrated that the tower would not actually be as close to the Pacific Pride fuel pumps as planning commissioners had thought, based on earlier estimates. She also confirmed that there are no other properties available for this project (the properties exist, but their owners are not interested in leasing them to AT&T).

The majority of councilors said they were willing to overrule the planning commission based on this new evidence, but two — Council President Tim Dale and Councilor Trygve Berge — did not.

Among other things, Berge, an experienced commercial developer by trade, expressed concerns about the project’s “break point” design. This is intended to cause the pole to fall over on itself in the event of a structural failure, rather than collapsing onto neighboring properties, but Berge questioned whether it would function as designed.

Health and safety were also big concerns for him.

The vote to approve the project was 4-2.

The following renderings were submitted by AT&T in their original application to the city:

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