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Another cell tower proposed on ICW

Another cell tower is to be added to the Island cellular communication network.

If approved, a 100-foot-tall cellphone pole will join more than 20 wireless installations that have sprouted on the Island over the last few years.

But what is required to build poles over 70 feet on Island Crest Way is in dispute.

The city is expected to issue a code interpretation regarding its wireless communication ordinance after a local cellphone service provider exposed ambiguity in the city’s code.

Development Services Director Steve Lancaster will have to decide whether or not the city code allows new wireless facility poles along the Island Crest Way corridor to extend up to 110 feet without combining nearby facilities if a new pole is constructed with space for future facilities.

Under the city’s wireless communications ordinance regarding poles on the Island Crest Way corridor, cell towers up to 70 feet tall may replace existing utility poles. The sections of Island Crest where poles are allowed within the right-of-way boundary are from S.E. 40th Street to S.E. 53rd Place and from S.E. 63rd to 68th. Collocated poles, those combined with other wireless providers, may be erected as high as 110 feet.

Last month, T-Mobile representatives shared their plans with the Design Commission to replace a utility pole at 4646 Island Crest Way with a 98-foot monopole equipped with three antennas and a nearby underground utility box. The plans do not include any immediate collocation, or combining, of wireless facilities. Instead, T-Mobile plans to erect a pole fit to add other service providers’ equipment in the future.

The city recently approved the environmental impact review of the pole and the Design Commission is now awaiting Lancaster’s interpretation of the apparently conflicting city code.

Bryan Caditz, the chair of the Design Commission, said the question was whether or not the code required immediate collocation or if leaving it for future collocation was adequate. T-Mobile, the applicant, is requesting the height increase in exchange for leaving space on the pole for future collocation.

Caditz said the language of the ordinance seems to require present combination of wireless services for the height extension but the purpose of the regulation is to promote collocation, or reduce the number of poles in the area. If the new pole is suitable and it is very likely services will be combined in the future, then it seems to serve the intent of the code to permit it, Caditz said.

City Attorney Bob Sterbank said the ambiguity in the code lies in a reference to a subsection.

“The WCF (wireless communication facility) must not project over the height of the pole, but a pole with a height of up to 70 feet may replace an existing pole or a pole with a height of up to 110 feet may replace an existing pole if the WCF is being collocated with another WCF consistent with subsection F of this section,” the code reads.

The subsection in which the code is referring to encourages wireless facility sharing, and that is the root of the ambiguity, according to Sterbank.

“The city also encourages WCF applicants to construct and site facilities with a view toward sharing sites and structures with other utilities, and accommodating the future collocation of other future WCFs,” reads subsection F.

Since the Design Commission was unable to make a determination of the code, it tabled the request until Lancaster issues his interpretation.

There are currently 21 wireless facility locations on the Island, with slightly more than half along the Island Crest corridor. In all, the regions six major cellular service providers operate off the 21 facilities. There are about six current collocated facilities, with 26 providers using the 21 facilities. Just a few feet south of the proposed monopole on Island Crest Way is another utility pole equipped with cell phone technology for AT&T.

Councilmember Dan Grausz, the Council’s liaison for the Design Commission, brought the pending code interpretation to the attention of his fellow Councilmembers at the Council’s Oct. 15 meeting. At the end of that meeting, the mayor asked city staff to return with Lancaster’s decision. Mayor Bryan Cairns said the issue of utility poles or cell towers has been important and controversial in the past, so the Council would like to know of the interpretation.

According to city planner George Steirer, the interpretation could be made as early as this week. The application would then come before the Design Commission. Steirer said that meeting may take place later this month, depending on when Lancaster reaches his decision. Steirer also said there were two residents that spoke at the Design Commission hearing and four letters submitted to the city.

In the past, residents contested and sued over cell phone towers and monopoles. In the fall of 2001, a 133-foot pole was erected near the South end fire station at the Puget Sound Energy substation for Qwest Communications after a three-year legal fight. The applicant contested the Planning Commission’s denial of the variance request — it did approve a 70-foot pole— and the City Council overturned the decision. Then the state court of appeals upheld the Council’s decision to allow the monopole.

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