UPDATE: Nevada City Planning Commission strikes down cell antenna project
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include comments from Heidi Flato, Verizon’s public relations manager for Northern California.
In the face of strong opposition from residents, Nevada City Planning Commissioners on Thursday voted 3-0 to deny a proposed application from Verizon Wireless to install eight cellular antennas atop a building in the downtown historical district.
Commissioners also shot down a request from a representative of the communications giant to continue the project for six months.
“I personally would like to see some kind of infrastructure like this around, based on the economy outside of tourism,” said Commissioner Skyler Moon. “That being said, I think our public voice has been very clear, and I serve the public. I am up here for you guys.”
Community opposition for the project remained strong during the Thursday meeting.
Kristin Welch, owner of Mama Madrone’s Eco-Emporium, a clothing store on Broad Street that is within walking distance of the building on which the antennas were proposed, said she attended an Aug. 18 meeting and Thursday’s, and her thoughts on the project never changed.
“My three employees said they opposed the project; everybody we spoke to in the shop opposed the project,” Welch said.
Gary Stollery, who operates Toad Hall Book Shop at 108 North Pine St., said the project would pose a health concern for him and his wife.
“My doctor is concerned about the radiation level for me and for my wife, we both have issues with cancer, so I would not like to see this go forward,” he said.
Commissioner Steffen Hawkins-Snell thanked the community members and the applicant for their patience during the review process.
“It’s been a really difficult and a contentious issue, I would really like to just highlight how (important) it is that we are respectful of our neighbors and the people who come into our town … and how we deal with them, no matter how we disagree with them,” Hawkins-Snell said. “But I don’t think there is anything more to add to this discussion.”
The antennas would have been installed on top of a building that houses the Nevada County Probation Department and Friar Tuck’s restaurant. It is located at 109 North Pine St. and is co-owned by Nevada County, as well as private owners — Kenneth and Kay Baker, and Gary and Patricia Tintle.
Project representative Mark Lobaugh, of Epic Wireless Inc., said the applicant received different opinions from the commissioners.
“We’ve been through several hearings, design reviews, PC (Planning Commission) hearings. We’ve heard all the testimonies,” Lobaugh said. “We got a lot of conflicting information from the commission, you know, conflicting views on the design reviews, full, unanimous approval, and we came to a PC hearing, and things started to change at the PC hearing.”
City Planner Amy Wolfson said she had received a request from Verizon Wireless representatives two weeks before the Sept. 15 hearing to extend the project for six months so they could explore alternate design options.
“We wanted to look at some alternatives. I am going to be very vague in that purposely, because we are looking at a lot of different alternates,” Lobaugh said. “I need some time … it’s a complex site; it has got a lot of moving parts. So I hope that you grant us the continuance, so we can do this right.”
It is unclear at this point whether Verizon Wireless will appeal the planning commission decision to the city council.
“Our goal is to provide the superior network performance our customers deserve and expect from Verizon,” said Heidi Flato, Verizon’s public relations manager for Northern California. “While we’re disappointed with the Planning Commission’s decision, we will continue to evaluate options to improve our infrastructure in the area.”
Since the proposal first came forward in January, it spurred debates on design, the impact on property values and on the historical characteristics of downtown Nevada City.
Vice-Chairman Stuart Lauters recused himself during the Aug. 18 meeting, saying that his residence is within 500 feet of the proposed project. Lauters’ decision resulted in a tie vote. Chairman Dan Thiem recused himself Thursday, saying his wife’s ownership of Verizon stock constitutes a conflict of interest under state law.
“I apologize to the public for not knowing that ahead of time,” said Thiem.
The decision left three planning commissioners, Gail Damskey, Hawkins-Snell and Moon, the minimum number of voting members required to form a quorum.
City Attorney Hal DeGraw said The Political Reform Act of 1974 disqualifies officials from participating in decisions in which they have a financial interest. The only exception to that rule is when the public official’s participation is legally required to secure a quorum.
Mayor Evans Phelps, who appointed Lauters to the commission, said his recusal and that of Thiem are legitimate courses of action.
“These are rules that (you) have to follow about the recusing of yourself and it’s what happens in a small town, you know; there are conflicts,” Phelps said. “There is still a quorum; they can still make an informed decision. I am hoping that it doesn’t come to the city council. But if it does come to the city council, we will try and resolve it for them.”
To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 530-477-4236.
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