East Medford neighbors appeal communication tower

Residents file with the City Council and the Land Use Board of Appeals

Residents affected by the surprise appearance last month of a 130-foot-tall emergency communications tower in their east Medford neighborhood have appealed the city's decision to place the tower within 30 feet of homes to both City Council and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

The residents' attorney, Chris Hearn, of Ashland's Davis, Hearn & Bridges, filed a notice of intent to appeal today with LUBA after residents submitted a formal appeal to the city last week challenging the city's decision to place the tower near homes on Valley View Drive and Ridge Way. The tower, which is meant to enhance the city's 9-1-1 communications, is visible from as far as a mile away.

Hearn said he advised the residents to file the appeals simultaneously because the city's code is unclear about whether residents have to complete the process of appealing to the City Council before appealing to LUBA. Meanwhile, LUBA stipulates appeals must be submitted within 21 days of a disputed decision.

"In order to cover our bases, I felt the neighbors should file in both places," Hearn said. "It's kind of a safety mechanism."

"Our strategy is to go ahead and pursue the local appeal first," he added.

The City Council plans to hold a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. Feb. 17, in Council Chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St.

"I'm hoping we can avoid (pursuing the dispute before LUBA), and common sense will prevail," said Buzz Thielemann, a Ridge Way resident.

The city built the tower on nine acres owned by the Medford Water Commission without notifying residents in advance. Some residents returned from out-of-town winter holidays to find the tower looming over their homes.

Under city code, as a municipal building intended for the public good, the tower is exempt from the normal requirements for notification of affected residents of a planned development, holding a public hearing and receiving approval from the Medford Planning Commission.

City officials have apologized for their failure to notify residents, but it's unclear whether that regret will prompt any changes in the location of the tower.

City Council President Dick Gordon said the Water Commission plans to expand its reservoir on the same 9-acre property, which is located on top of Capital Hill, named for Capital Avenue. Even if the tower were to be relocated, the reservoir expansion would likely create an eyesore for the same residents who now protest the tower, Gordon said, adding that council must also consider the impact that moving the tower would have on taxpayers.

Larry Rains, Water Commission manager, said plans call for expanding the reservoir from 12.2 million gallons to 20 million gallons within the next 10 to 20 years.

The 130-foot tower replaces a 60-foot tower to the south on the same property. The tower has served as the city's primary 9-1-1 communications transmission center since 1988. City officials say it was moved and heightened to fill gaps in the communication system, especially within large buildings such as Rogue Valley Medical Center, City Hall and Rogue Valley Mall.

The tower was placed near homes because another location higher up on the hill contained large rocks that would have been expensive to drill through to secure a foundation, according to the city. It would have cost about $50,000 more to build the tower at the higher location, City Police Chief Randy Schoen said.

The City Council approved the location as a part of consent agenda Nov. 18. Council members said they weren't aware that residents hadn't been notified.

Residents contend the city also neglected to consider the impact the tower would have on property values when it opted for that location.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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