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County planning officials have rejected an AT&T plan to put a new cell phone tower in downtown Guerneville, saying the phone company has, among other things, failed to adequately evaluate more suitable locations.
“It’s not clear what efforts were made” to find a better site for the 70–foot tower, said county Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) member Pam Davis, who represents the Fifth Supervisorial District.
The BZA’s 2-2 tie vote at a Sept. 21 meeting with one board member absent means AT&T’s application will probably be appealed to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for a new hearing. No date has been set.
AT&T’s plan for a tower disguised as a tree outside the Guerneville Bank of America building drew support and opposition from lower river residents and tourists who generally agreed AT&T’s Guerneville cell phone service is terrible but differed on location of a communications tower.
Several opponents focused on the negative visual impact of having a fake pine tree towering above the town known for its past glory adjacent to redwood forests.
“I don’t want a phony tree in the middle of downtown Guerneville,” said Guerneville resident Don Lawson, who runs an art gallery about a block away from the proposed site. “It’s an insult…There are very few real redwoods left in downtown Guerneville.”
AT&T representatives agreed the “faux” tree can be made to look more like a redwood even though it will require a custom-made tower that so far hasn’t been attempted by the manufacturer that assembles the fake trees AT&T uses elsewhere, said AT&T spokeswoman Michelle Ellis.
“I’m supportive of AT&T building towers to increase cell coverage in western Sonoma County,” Cazadero resident Mike Nicholls said at the hearing. “I’m opposed to that particular location because of the fact that it’s located in the scenic corridor.”
Nicholls said he doubted such a tower would get approved for location near the Healdsburg square and he encouraged a search for “better alternatives.”
One alternative could be atop St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church up the street on Armstrong Woods Road, said Nicholls. But AT&T representatives said they’ve ruled out the church site owing to lack of interest on the part of the Catholic diocese.