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Beacon Hill cell tower approved, again

The application for a cell phone tower on Steinman Butte (also called Beacon Hill) on Old Siskiyou Highway, approved earlier by Jackson County, has been approved again with some changes — a decision which nearby appellant-landowners could appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

County planners approved the application by New Cingular Wireless for a 120-foot tower in January, but neighbors, led by Michael Albrechtsen, appealed in July, saying slopes were too steep and soils were “expansive.” The County Hearings Officer ruled that evidence shows soils are not expansive.

Appellants said the development violated several statewide Land Use Planning goals, but the Hearings Officer ruled that the broad goals are already incorporated into local comprehensive plans and can’t be argued.

Appellants argued that the project was really three projects — road, enclosure and tower — so the site plan approval should have been considered separately. The ruling said that, being a utility, it didn’t fall in the category governed by that rule.

Appellants objected to radio frequency emissions, saying they harmed health and lowered property values. However, the county cited Federal Communications Commission regulations that bar local regulation of cell towers if they obey FCC law. This tower, it notes, would be under 10 percent of emissions allowed.

The Hearings Officer noted that several other issues, while “understandably very important” to appellants, may not be considered, including: alternative sites, property values, view, lack of benefit to locals, violation of area CC&Rs, and possible harm to Native American archaeology or endangered species. 

The applicant had requested a reduction in setback, but agreed to make the project 500 feet from the nearest dwelling and 201 feet from the nearest property line. The applicant also agreed to work with the Oregon Department of Aviation to make sure the tower isn’t a hazard to aircraft.

The ruling rejected appellant’s complaint that the project would impact the Steinman Loop, 700 feet distant, a part of old 99 that doubles back on itself and is designated a County Historic Resource. The ruling said concerns about impacts on elk and deer were addressed in an earlier ruling.

The ruling said Cingular’s application was approved with conditions.

An email from nearby resident Jennifer Hart to neighbors pointed to the expense of a LUBA appeal — and talked of a mediation route, getting Steinman Loop registered as a Historic Landmark and other steps. The email concluded with “The fight is far from done. There’s much to do.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.