MEDFORD — The City of Medford will no longer require a public hearing anytime it plans to build public safety communication towers.
The City Council voted Thursday night to alter language in the City Code to drop the public hearing portion of the process related to these towers.
The issue sparked an outcry in 2011 when a 130-foot communication tower on Capital Hill was built to the chagrin of neighbors who felt the city failed to inform them about a large-scale project planned near their backyards.
In that case, the city uprooted the tower and moved it to another location on the same property. The decision came because the tower was built too close to a residence.
The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals found that the city violated its own rules because the city's code wasn't clear in defining public safety communication towers as public utilities.
The language was made clear Thursday night. Medford Planning Director Jim Huber presented the new language to the City Council during the evening meeting.
"We want to make it clear these towers are a public utility," Huber said.
Councilman Bob Strosser agreed with the changes, but he did read an email from a Capital Hill resident that asked the city to give residents a heads-up anytime a major structure is to be built.
"It was such a controversial topic," Strosser said. "They are definitely a requirement for public safety."
And thought the city will no longer be required to notify neighbors that a public safety tower will be built, it would be good practice to inform residents in public hearings, Strosser said.
"While it may not be required, I think it's important to notify people when we plan to do things," Strosser said.
The Council discussed how the issue shouldn't cause trouble down the road because these towers are built infrequently.
The city built the tower in December 2010 to improve the communication system for Police and Fire departments. The tower, which never became operational because of the neighbors' complaints, would have replaced a 60-foot tower to the south on the same 8-acre property, which is owned by the Medford Water Commission.
The city budgeted $199,680 for the new tower. With the additional cost of moving the structure, the total cost rose to $327,580.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.