AT&T cell tower planned E. of Bend sparks protest

Foes await Deschutes County ruling; staff urges denial

BEND, Ore. - John Devencenzi says he worked for AT&T for 15 years and has nothing against the company. But he joined about 20 neighbors along Alfalfa Market Road east of Bend on Saturday, many holding up neon protest signs to demonstrate their continued opposition to a planned 100-foot AT&T cell phone tower.

"I have no issues with them. I enjoyed working there," Devencenzi said Sunday. "Believe me -- this isn't a wacky group who don't believe on progress. Heck, I make a living working and selling software from home, using the Internet as my main vehicle of communication. We just think there are better options."

Venus Maria Blau was among those on hand on a chilly Saturday afternoon, saying they fear the tower will reduce property values and affect their health and views, in an area called Cascade View Estates, and said it also "constitutes an overlap of coverage for AT&T -- where will it stop?"

Their signs pointed to other issues, saying the tower poses a "major health risk," another saying to "protect our children," a third urging "greed, not need."

Dozens of people, mostly opponents, showed up at a Deschutes County public hearing earlier this month on a conditional use permit sought by American Tower of Spokane, Wash., which is leasing the land a from property owner Barbara Ellingboe for the proposed cell tower.

Foes began organizing months ago, with about 50 gathering at a Grange hall last March to oppose the plans, well before any permit application was filed.

While the tower's opponents wait for a decision early next year from county Hearings Officer Ken Helm, they have reason to hope the proposal will be denied -- as that's what county land-use staff recommended.

The staff report prepared by county Senior Planner Paul Blikstad said the proposed tower site "has no vegetative, structural and topographic screening," only "widely scattered juniper trees, which provide little or no screening for the facility."

"Staff believes it has not been sited in a manner to minimize its impact on scenic views, and it is being proposed in an area where there is no screening available," the report said. recommending denial of the plan as submitted.

AT&T spokesman Alex Fryer said, "The bottom line is, we absolutely want to be good neighbors, and we absolutely want to work with the communities we're in."

And he said they wouldn't be seeking the tower if it wasn't needed for adequate cell coverage.

"The siting of these cell towers is absolutely driven by demand, the speed and capacity desires of our customers," Fryer said. "We frankly hear complaints about coverage -- that's what drives us to site new towers. We don't just do it for the heck of it."

Fryer said the company tries to limit building new towers, and prefers to co-locate on existing structures when they can; American Tower told planners the tower would be able to hold multiple carriers as tenants. The company representative noted that AT&T has done "stealth towers" that can look like trees or flagpoles, in sites where those will work adequately.

"This site was chosen by the technical people because it was needed," he said.

As for the claim that cell towers will lower property values, Fryer said that "probably depends on many factors," and that he's "never seen any indication that's so."

Blikstad said all parties have until Dec. 21 to submit any comments, information or arguments. After that date, comments that are rebuttal only (no new evidence) are alllowed until Jan. 4. The applicant has has a final rebuttal period until Jan. 11, followed by Helm's written decision about 4-6 weeks later.

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