Almanac

News - November 3, 2010

Portola Valley council clears way for cell tower

by Dave Boyce

T-Mobile West Corp. passed another milestone toward its goal of erecting a cell phone tower on undeveloped property at the corner of Peak Lane and Golden Oak Drive in Portola Valley.

The Town Council gave its unanimous approval on Oct. 27 to a resolution that granted T-Mobile a conditional use permit to erect the tower, but only after review and approval from the Architectural & Site Control Commission.

The 3-0 vote, with Mayor Steve Toben and Councilman John Richards absent, brings the council's role in this matter to a close.

The council on Oct. 13 heard T-Mobile's appeal of a 4-1 Planning Commission decision rejecting a permit, with Commissioner Arthur "Chip" McIntosh dissenting. The majority disputed T-Mobile's claim of a significant coverage gap and was willing to take a chance that the courts had not ruled definitely on a phone company's discretion in a semi-rural town.

The council unanimously reversed the commission's decision, with Mr. Richards absent. While no one on the council appeared to like casting their votes as they did, they had little choice.

Federal regulations tip the balance in favor of phone service providers that can demonstrate the need for a tower. T-Mobile apparently made its case effectively, as every council member noted the unlikelihood of the town's prevailing in court.

The permit conditions direct the company to do everything possible to keep the pole/tree out of the line of sight of residences, to not draw attention to itself, and to test for radio frequency radiation every year, with the results subject to independent testing and review at the company's expense, a staff report said.

The pole may be as high as 70 feet if the ASCC is shown data proving that antennas for three separate carriers could be accommodated on the pole and that the results would be aesthetically acceptable, the report said. The ASCC will have considerable discretion in the location of the pole and its appearance.

T-Mobile has accepted all the conditions, said San Francisco attorney Paul Albritton, who was representing the company before the council.

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