Cell tower nixed

Posted: Friday, December 15, 2006

Residents of the Birch Lane Estates Mobile Home Park in Soldotna will not be looking up at an 80-foot cell phone antenna tower in their neighborhood anytime soon.

Sitting as the Board of Adjustment, the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday unanimously upheld the decision of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to disallow the tower.

Charlie Forbes, of Lanmark Inc., had asked the commission to waive setback requirements for the antenna tower, which was to be built on a pie-shaped parcel of land adjacent to the Peninsula Center Mall for Cellular One.

The city’s code requires a setback from the property line equal in distance to the height of the 80-foot tower.

The variance sought to have the tower set back from the closest property line, which is approximately 28 feet away. The property is triangular in shape approximately 239 feet long and 70 feet wide at the widest point.

Planners denied the variance in November and Forbes appealed the decision.

Presenting the position of the Planning Commission Wednesday, City Manager Tom Boedeker said city code requires a setback equal to the height of the tower “from every property line.”

He said the initial variance application sought a 28-foot setback from the north property line and a 29 1/2-foot setback from the south property line.

The request was later changed to 14 feet from the north and 26 feet from the south.

Boedeker said the base of the tower was started before a conditional use permit was applied for and the base “is very close to adjacent properties.”

Planners have subsequently granted a conditional use permit, which would allow a cell phone tower be be built on the property, as long as it complies with all other requirements of the city building code.

The property is zoned commercial.

Variances are intended to allow the use of property which would not be usable without a variance, according to Boedeker.

The intent is not to use the variance process for a primary use of property that would not be allowed under the city code.

“You can’t grant a variance just because it is inconvenient or presents a financial hardship,” Boedeker said.

He said three of six general conditions for a variance were not met by the request.

“I think the variance was properly denied by the Planning Commission,” Boedeker said.

Representing Lanmark, Forbes said, “We were granted a conditional use permit which gives us an entitlement.”

He said the widest part of the tract is 150 feet, and construction is not possible without a variance.

Forbes said the property is a “nice location for the city” because it is well off the Sterling Highway toward the back of the shopping mall.

“If we start limiting towers, we’ll limit cellular service to the people of Soldotna,” Forbes said.

He said he was initially denied the variance, then granted conditional use in order to place the tower somewhere else on the lot.

“We did not know at that time there was not a spot that did not require a variance,” he said.

During a public comment period, Steve Stenga, who said he has the property under a purchase contract, said he opposed the location because “it’s in a bad spot for future development ... people in the neighborhood have possible health concerns ... and it does not meet setback requirements.”

Following an executive session to confer with the city’s attorney, Brooks Chandler, council members reconvened with Jim Stogsdill making a motion to affirm the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision.

Citing reasons for his motion, Stogsdill said he did not believe the tower was (to be) placed where a minimum variance might have been required; the setbacks for the tower have safety issues; and the owner of the property will not be denied reasonable use of the property if the cell phone tower variance is disallowed.

All other council members agreed with Stogsdill. Council member Lisa Parker was absent.

Following the ruling, Chandler said the Board of Adjustment has until Jan. 12 to render a written decision.

On Thursday, Boedeker said Forbes may appeal the board’s adjudication in court.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek @peninsulaclarion.com.

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