Taller cell tower on Island Crest Way nears approval

The City Design Commission is actively working on approving a 110-foot-tall cell phone pole to replace the current facility on Island Crest Way. The new pole will include three microcell Wireless Communications Facility (WCF) antennas, along with an underground utility vault.

The Design Commission last met on Oct. 14, when they made a preliminary decision that T-Mobile and Cricket Communications could build their proposed cell phone tower as long as the facility is as “unobtrusive as possible.”

T-Mobile now has the duty to prove that the 110-foot pole, antennas and underground vault, which are set to replace the current pole at 4646 Island Crest Way, are not obstructive visually to the neighborhood or to pedestrian pathways. The facility must also be built to enable the “safe and efficient provision of maintenance access.”

According to City Planner George Steirer, some residents in the neighborhood believe that the new facility should be moved to a pole south of the existing one, arguing that it is less of an eyesore.

“Right now, the applicant must show that their proposed location is as unobtrusive as possible — less so than where neighbors are proposing,” he said. “[T-Mobile] also has to make sure that the underground vault can be easily and safely maintained.”

Once T-Mobile returns to the Planning Commission with its argument for building on the current pole, the Commission can grant final approval for the plan.

Discussion over the T-Mobile cell phone tower, which joins more than 20 wireless installations on Mercer Island, has been moving along for years.

In 2007, the city had to amend its wireless communications ordinance to allow for a pole greater than 70 feet to be built on Island Crest Way. Pressure to change the ordinance came after T-Mobile approached the city, asking to replace the existing utility pole at 4646 Island Crest Way with a 98-foot monopole. Originally, the plans did not include any immediate colocation or combining of wireless facilities. Instead, T-Mobile hoped to erect a pole fit to add other service providers’ equipment in the future.

However, the city’s Design Commission argued that T-Mobile would have to return with a co-applicant, denying the company’s request to build a pole with “the potential to add other service providers’ equipment in the future.” T-Mobile agreed to the terms and began the search for an additional applicant.

It was not until last July, nearly two years after T-Mobile first approached the city, that the company returned with Cricket Communications as its co-applicant. The Design Commission is currently waiting for its December meeting, when it will decide on the project’s “unobtrusive nature” and potentially grant final approval.

There are currently more than 20 wireless facility locations on the Island, with slightly more than half along the Island Crest corridor. In all, the region’s six major cellular service providers operate off these facilities. There are about six current co-located facilities, with 26 providers using the 21 facilities. All of the poles, including the recent T-Mobile proposal, have passed the city’s environmental impact review.

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