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County says no to Ebey's Landing cell tower

"A controversial application to build a 15-story cell tower on Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve was turned down on Dec. 17 by the Island County Planning Department.Sprint-Spectrum’s proposal to build a 153-foot monopole at 60 Willard Way, just off Highway 20 near Rhododendron State Park, drew petetitions and numerous letters and e-mails in protest, according to planning department records. But the application’s denial was based on its compatibility with surrounding uses, area, county ordinances and the island’s Comprehensive Plan, Island County associate planner Stacy Tucker said. “We received a lot of public feedback on this, but it was reviewed for consistency with our regulations,” Tucker said.Among other things, county planners concluded that the tower application lacked provisions for vegetative screening, or any other exterior measures to lessen its visual effect on the Reserve’s predominantly pastoral setting.In addition, the cell tower proposal was found to be incompatible with existing neighborhoods and the surrounding area.Ebey’s Landing National Historical reserve is a 17,000-acre area within the heart of Whidbey Island. It includes mostly rolling fields, farmland, forests and open spaces that front vistas of Admiralty Inlet.The proposed site, about 200 feet north of Highway 20 and just east of the Rhododendron State Park, is well within the boundaries of the reserve.Reserve manager Rob Harbour said he opposed Spring-Spectrum’s cell tower because of its height and location, but does not oppose cell towers in general.“That location and design don’t work — the fact that the tower was twice as tall as the mature Douglas Fir tress around it,” Harbor said. “But maybe that location could work with a re-design. It’s time to find one (design) that does, and hopefully we can spend our time and our energy on that, rather than lawsuits and appeals.”Harbour said he thinks there will definitely be cell towers on the reserve at some point.Possibly it’s just a matter of lowering the tower to just above the trees, Harbor said. Or, employing a technique some companies currently use of swapping out an existing telephone pole for a ‘telephone pole/cell tower’ that is only about 15 feet taller.Tucker said Sprint-Spectrum can appeal the planning department’s decision but must do so within 14 days after the notice was mailed.As of Dec. 28, no appeal had been received at the Island County Hearing Examiner’s office.The deadline for appeal is Friday, Dec. 31.Joanne Ryan, Sprint- Spectrum’s representative on Whidbey, declined to comment Tuesday.Harbor said construction of more cell towers are inevitable on Whidbey Island, and that there will be towers on the Reserve - towers that he hopes don’t tower over old-growth trees.“You can accommodate change and innovation. It’s doable” he said. “But you can’t destroy the community’s fabric in the process.” "

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