A Deschutes County hearings officer has denied AT&T's controversial request to place a 100-foot cell phone tower along Alfalfa Market Road east of Bend, agreeing with a county planner that it would lack adequate screening from nearby homes and would harm the neighbors' scenic views.
Residents who have fought the project for nearly a year applauded the news.
"From my house I would be looking straight in to it," Linda Armenta said Monday evening. "It would be blocking the mountains, and that's one of the main reasons I purchased my home."
"I'm retired," said Larry White, who also opposes the tower. "I came up here to get away from this type of thing."
American Tower of Spokane had applied for a conditional use permit last fall to build the tower and associated ground equipment on the Alfalfa Market Road address, located in an area zoned "rural residential."
In a 19-page ruling mailed Friday, Hearings Officer Kenneth Helm also dived into the murky elements of federal Telecommunications Act and past decisions involving definitions of "scenic views" and how to protect them, saying some of the issues he faced had not been decided locally before.
Helm agreed with Bend land-use attorney Bruce White that the federal law does not pre-empt local land use laws or mandate approval if a gap in cell coverage has been identified, despite an inability to mitigate visual impacts on nearby residents or scenic views.
Having reviewed case law, Helm also wrote that he believes a local government must first reach a final decision denying a proposed tower for any claim by an application that the local government has prohibited the provision of personal wireless services.
The record shows, Helm wrote, "that the rural residential area in which the subject property is located contains a very sparse cover of short juniper trees," at most 20 feet tall. Though at one point noting the county code he was interpreting was "inartfully written and not entirely clear," Helm said an alternative location on the property also doesn't have enough vegetation to effectively screen the tower.
Last December, after a public hearing drew dozens of people, many opposed to the tower, about 20 neighbors lined up along the road on a chilly Saturday, many holding up neon protest signs in opposition to the planned tower, saying it will reduce property values and affect their health and views.
"This has been very stressful, because this is something you don't want to look out your window every day and look at," White said.
The cell tower opponents also suggested alternative sites exist, such as along Elk Lane and on nearby property owned by the Oregon Division of State Lands. Despite criticism of those options by the applicant's attorney, Helm said they had failed to show that less intrusive sites were unavailable or did not provide necessary coverage.
The applicants have 12 days from the mailing to decide whether to appeal the hearings officer's denial. If they do so, county Senior Planner Paul Blikstad told KTVZ.COM on Monday that it would be up to county commissioners to decide whether to hear the appeal.
"We're just holding out and waiting to see if that's going to come through, so it's just kind of a little wait game," Armenta said.