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Seeing Red

Southeast Ashland residents are up in arms over a new cell tower on Mistletoe Road that went up this winter after years of debate over its location, saying the tower's light is disruptive to the neighborhood.

Lincoln Zeve, who lives near the AT&T tower's location at 185 Mistletoe Road, says the 125-foot structure appeared seemingly out of nowhere within the past few weeks. He first noticed it because of the bright red aviation-warning light at its apex.

"(One) evening, my wife looks out the window and says, 'What's that?' " he says. Zeve thought it was a light from a TV news van's microwave transmitter, but when he looked again a few hours later, it was still there.

The tower is on small parcel of land that falls under county jurisdiction, tucked in between the folds of Ashland's city limits. AT&T first proposed the tower in 2010, citing a lack of coverage in the city's southeast neighborhoods and parts of the Southern Oregon University campus. Other antennas are already hidden atop the Ashland Springs Hotel downtown and the Holiday Inn Express off Interstate 5. The company originally planned to hide the antennas inside the facade of the Ashland Street Cinemas, a proposal that was loudly protested by Ashland residents and ultimately turned down by the city.

In 2013, AT&T hired cell-tower contractor Velocitel to draw up plans for the site on Mistletoe Road. Velocitel sent letters to neighbors within 250 feet of the site notifying them of the decision, as required by the county, along with a map drawn up by the city.

There was one public hearing requested by audiobook producer Blackstone Audio, located on Siskiyou Boulevard above the Mistletoe Road tower. Other than that, Zeve says the permitting process went through with very little fanfare.

"They went through the permitting process, they followed all of the notification (requirements)," he says. "Somehow, it didn't come into any public discussion even within (Bellview Elementary School) or the school district," he says, referring to the school's proximity to the tower. The county issued a building permit for the tower Feb. 19, records show.

Zeve argues the 250-foot notification requirement didn't give the rest of the neighborhood fair warning. "Is 250 feet fair on something that can impact so many others?" he asks.

AT&T, which says its received numerous complaints about dead spots in coverage around the city, has since also won tentative approval for another 84-foot tower at 290 East Ashland Lane on the west side of town. A public hearing on that tower, requested by a potential neighbor and state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, had been set for March 2 but has been rescheduled for May 4.

Neighbors have asked about whether the light is necessary, but  the Federal Aviation Administration requires cell towers inside the airport contour zone, which includes much of Ashland, to have a visible light on top to alert pilots on approach at night.

Zach Brombacher, who lives on Tolman Creek Road above the tower, says the light has completely disrupted his view. "The tower is terrible, and it sticks up, but it's the light that's obscene," he says. 

Brombacher, who says he was formerly an AT&T customer, acknowledges he had service problems in the area before the tower went up. But when pressed on whether he'd prefer to have bad service or no flashing light in, the choice, he says, is a no-brainer.

Both Brombacher and Zeve acknowledge the tower is likely here to stay, but are hopeful something can be done about the brightness of the warning light. "Maybe it's possible to reduce the intensity of the red light at night, which is the most intrusive aspect of it all around," Zeve says. 

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Some southeast Ashland residents neighborhood are upset about a new cellphone tower that was erected nearby this winter. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Zach Brombacker, who lives on Tolman Creek Road, isn't happy about a new cellphone tower that can be viewed from his home, calling the light from the tower 'obscene.' Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch