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Radio tower neighbors receptive to compromise

East Medford neighbors say they would compromise if the city agrees to move an unwelcome radio tower for police and fire and cut its height by 30 feet.

Medford officials have set a deadline for bids from contractors for 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19. They want potential contractors to offer two options — cutting the height of the existing 130-foot tower by 12 feet or moving it to another location on an 8-acre property owned by the Medford Water Commission.

Buzz Thielemann, a neighbor who has led the legal opposition to the structure, said the option of moving the tower would be acceptable to most residents.

"My feeling is that I'm fine with that," said Thielemann, whose home sits immediately below the existing tower. "This is a nice compromise."

The city erected the tower in December 2010, but it never became operational because of an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA. The tower would replace a 60-foot tower now located farther south on the same property, with the intent to improve reception for fire and police communications in the Medford area.

The Land Use Board of Appeals determined the tower that looms above treetops in the neighborhood should have been built at least 611/2; feet from the rear property line of the city's Capital Hill lot, but it is only 53 feet from the nearest neighbor's fence, a difference of 8.5 feet.

Neighbors complained that the tower is an eyesore and that they didn't receive notice from the city before it was erected. City officials have apologized for the oversight.

Thielemann said that it would still be unpalatable with neighbors if the city decided to leave the existing tower at its current location and just lop 12 feet off the top.

"If they left it there, we would file another LUBA appeal," he said.

Thielemann said another advantage to moving the tower would be the reduction in height, making it somewhat more aesthetically appealing.

In addition, he said city officials appear receptive to the idea of shielding a red light on the tower that is an annoyance at night.

"We've been teased that you live in a red light district," he said.

While the existing tower was erected without prior knowledge of the residents, Thielemann said Medford police — particularly Chief Tim George — have been fair and open with neighbors over the newer proposals.

Randy Sparacino, Medford police deputy chief, said the city hopes to reuse the existing tower under either option.

He said he didn't have any cost estimates for the two options on the table, though he said it likely would be more expensive to build a new foundation and move the existing tower to a location north of the reservoir. Earlier estimates by the Police Department put the cost of relocating the tower at $180,000.

Sparacino said that if the tower is moved, it would be placed on a higher location on the property where there are more trees and potentially more obstructions that could interfere with the signal.

If a new location is chosen, dirt would have to be removed from the site to allow for installation of the foundation.

Two VHF, or very high frequency, antennas for radio reception and two microwave antennas would be installed on the top of the tower.

After the city receives the bids, Sparacino said, the options will be brought before the City Council at a later date.

"We were just trying to get them the best price — the best options," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

Capital Hill neighbors say they could live with a city option that would move an emergency services communications tower and reduce its height. - Mail Tribune photo illustration / Bob Pennell