Couple struggles with county over cellular tower location
For a Penn Valley couple, what began as a dispute with the county over the proposed location of a cellular tower has evolved into a battle to prevent their rights as citizens from being violated.
“We have been badly mistreated,” said Juliet Erickson, who, along with her husband Peter Lockyer, has been embroiled in the year-and-a-half dispute. “Our rights have been trampled and we are surprised and disappointed.”
In November 2011, Lockyer and Erickson first learned of Verizon Wireless’ plans to build an 88-foot communication tower about 9 feet away from their property line, atop a prominent ridge near Lake Wildwood.
The couple plans to build a 2,500 square-foot house about 30 feet away from where the tower was originally to be built.
“We only learned of the project after the county sent us a formal letter telling us it had already been approved,” Lockyer said.
Since then, the height of the tower has been amended to 48 feet, and the proposed location of the tower has been slightly adjusted to be placed exactly 30 feet away from the property, the distance that is required in county code setback requirements.
Initially, the county planning department and the board of supervisors approved a variance that allowed the construction of the tower within the required 30 feet.
Lockyer and Erickson enlisted lawyer Alan Haley to file suit in Nevada County Superior Court, which stated the county had to prove there was a “hardship” in order to override the setback requirements.
The case never moved forward as Verizon amended its construction proposal to conform with setback requirements.
“For the last two years, (project proponents) said this exact location was the only place it could be,” Lockyer said. “Then, miraculously, they find another place.”
Lockyer and Erickson, who will go before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to appeal the approval of the newly amended use permit, allege that the county code has been applied differently to them than it has to Verizon — and in some cases, the county has ignored their own laws completely.
Finally, the couple alleges the county has mismanaged the process completely by failing to gain consensus from the neighborhood in proximity to the proposed site while “ducking and diving” through its own laws.
“There has been an enormous cost to protect our rights,” Lockyer said.
On Tuesday, the couple will argue the new proposed tower location contradicts the county’s own zoning regulations for new towers, which states “no new tower shall be placed on an exposed ridge line or to silhouette against the sky unless the site is developed with existing communication facilities.”
The parcel that the county has identified is owned by the Nevada Irrigation District and has two 30-foot water towers, but is free from communication devices.
The couple said the tower protrudes from the ridge line by 18-20 feet.
Many in the Lake Wildwood area, including Don Queen, who resides on the north shore of Lake Wildwood, said the lack of cellular phone service in the gated community means residents must have a land line, which is an additional expense.
Gene Vander Plaats, chief of Penn Valley Fire Department, said the poor coverage is a public safety issue.
“Our paramedics rely heavily on cell phones to make contact with the emergency room physician during medical emergencies,” he said. “We transmit the patient’s condition and receive medical direction for treatment. We recently added equipment that allows us to transmit a 12-lead EKG from the field to a receiving cardiac center via cell phone technology, making a major difference in the treatment and outcome of patients suffering from a heart attack.
“A large part of our area has poor or nonexistent coverage, requiring our medics to move to an area with coverage, or use a land line if available,” Vander Plaats said.
Lockyer said he is not against cellular coverage, but believes the issue at hand is one of location and fairness for the property owners living in proximity to the proposed site.
He and Erickson have collected over 100 petitions from neighbors and other property owners in the region opposing the site’s location.
An alternative analysis conducted by Mackenzie & Albritton, LLP, an independent consulting firm, shows Verizon considered two alternative sites previous to settling on the NID parcel, including a parcel within Lake Wildwood that already contained the homeowners association’s communications antenna.
“Negotiations included extensive subleasing with the homeowners association as well as direct negotiation for equipment space with NID,” the analysis states. “Ultimately, local resident opposition made the zoning approval of this facility impossible.”
Another attempt to establish a cellular tower in Lake Wildwood took place in 1997, the document states.
Lockyer and Erickson said they hope they are treated fairly during the Oct. 23 appeal hearing at the board of supervisors.
The hearing is slated for 1:30 p.m.
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