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Planning Commission upholds Windmaster tower approval

A 100-foot cell tower at Windmaster Corner, next to Hood River Valley High School’s baseball field, has been approved in round two before the Hood River County Planning Commission.

Planning commissioners on Wednesday voted 7-0 to deny neighbor Rebecca Rawson’s appeal, which strived to block the monopole communications structure from being built on a patch of land just south of the school on cold storage industrial property owned by Double Mountain LLC.

If built as planned, the tower will be 100 feet tall, painted brown and disguised like a tree in hopes of blending in with surrounding foliage. It would stand about 25 feet taller than the light poles on Traner Field at HRVHS, according to a report by planning staff.

Verizon Wireless applied for the tower in 2014 through a Spokane-based land management company, Proland LLC.

Verizon company representatives have said a new tower is necessary to help to fill local “coverage gaps” and to “offload” already busy cell sites in the Gorge.

The Planning Department last May approved land use for the scaled-down tower (originally proposed at 120-feet). Other changes Verizon made after hearing feedback from neighbors were “concealment” measures to make the tower look like a tree, and pushing the structure further away from nearby buildings.

Rawson felt the measures didn’t solve problems for neighbors, especially visual impacts. She filed an appeal of the tower plan in June, which was re-sparked when Verizon resumed the application process this spring.

Planning staff said in an April 6 report the tower would be applicable to the industrial property as a “utility” under the county’s zoning ordinance.

“Although staff tends to agree that transmission towers are generally unsightly structures, staff cannot find that locating one in a planned industrial area is a qualifying nuisance,” planners said. The department found that the reduced height, re-placement on the property, and concealment attempts “minimized or mitigated” the overall aesthetic impacts of the tower.

Planning Commission unanimously upheld their decision from last May and denied the appeal of the Windmaster tower.

Hood River County Planning Director John Roberts said the decision can still be appealed to the Board of Commissioners. The deadline is within 15 days of the decision.

Patrick Rawson, Rebecca’s husband, said the family hasn’t yet decided if they’ll appeal Planning Commission’s decision. Rawson argued Verizon hadn’t shown sufficient documentation that they tried to site the tower elsewhere, or “co-locate” onto another structure.

“At this stage, we lost. We are hoping it’s a lesson learned in establishing community values in our planning,” Rawson said.

General rules for future cell towers will come before the Hood River County Board of Commissioners at a hearing Monday, April 18 at 6 p.m. at the Business Administration Building at 601 State St. Recommendations from Planning Commission concerning a cell tower ordinance will go to the higher board for a decision to adopt the ruleset or ask for more changes.

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