PLEASANT HILL -- A new hilltop cell phone tower will expand wireless coverage in the city, but opponents say it will ruin homeowners' views and tarnish the beauty of nearby Paso Nogal Park.
The City Council on Monday granted AT&T permission to build a 45-foot cell phone tower disguised as a pine tree on 1.25 acres the Contra Costa Water District owns. The water district operates a storage and pump facility on the property.
AT&T revised the project to address some of the neighbors' concerns -- it moved the location of the cell tower 20 feet downhill, reduced the number of antenna panels attached to the tower from 12 to nine, decreased the number of equipment cabinets from six to four and dropped the proposed 6-foot chain-link fence enclosing the base of the tower in favor of a 7-foot redwood fence.
"I think we've done what we can to improve this site while filling the (coverage) gap in the least intrusive way possible," said Jimmy Stillman, senior project manager working with AT&T.
Mayor Tim Flaherty and Councilmen David Durant and Ken Carlson voted to deny an appeal of the Planning Commission's June 2011 approval of a conditional use permit for the project. Councilman Jack Weir voted to uphold the appeal. Councilman Michael Harris recused himself because his wife owns property within 500 feet of the tower site.
"It's probably as good as we can get," said Durant, noting the concessions from AT&T. "And under the circumstances, it's time to say yes."
AT&T, which applied in 2010 for the use permit to install the wireless antenna, has said it needs additional infrastructure to fill a significant coverage gap in the city and to satisfy growing demand for wireless devices. The company is not sure when construction will begin.
The New Falconpointe Homeowners' Association, a group of 52 property owners, filed an appeal with the City Council in July 2011. The group believes the cell tower will ruin the view of the hilltop and urged AT&T to find another site. Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District board members also opposed the location because the cell tower would be visible to park visitors and people using an adjacent walking trail.
In 2011, the council asked the Kramer Firm, a nationally recognized law and telecommunications consultant, to identify alternative, less noticeable locations that could address the coverage gap, and to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of those possible sites. Jonathan Kramer analyzed two alternate locations -- an area in the homeowners' association open space and another inside the park -- in addition to the hilltop site. He determined the original site provided the "least intrusive" means to close the coverage gap.
But several residents contended AT&T never seriously considered alternate sites or other technologies because it wanted to keep the project costs down.
Recreation district board member Sandra Bonato noted that the city's push for wireless carriers to "co-locate" antennas, combined with federal regulations requiring cities to approve many changes to antennas without review, could "open the door to what can quickly become a very misshapen tree."
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.