It is never a good time for a cell tower to fall, but the collapse of 200-foot-tall cell tower in Matanuska/Susitna Borough, Alaska, Oct. 25, unfortunately coincided with the development of a new tower ordinance in the rural area 100 miles north of Anchorage. The AT&T Alascom tower was the victim of high winds and rain-soaked ground. It nevertheless has provided fuel for the fire of tower opponents.
The borough has a love/hate relationship with government regulation and when it comes to cell towers, it has been bipolar. Two years ago, the local assembly dumped all regulations on towers, including public notification and hearings, after Verizon Wireless announced its plans to enter the Alaska cellphone market and then partner with Matanuska Telephone Association to deploy a LTE data network in the Matanuska/Susitna Valley.
Then last year when a Verizon Wireless tower popped up in a neighborhood unannounced, the public outcry led to the an ordinance that any single-user tower taller than 85 feet required a conditional-use permit and public hearings. But a month later the borough’s original 1999 tower ordinance defining a tall tower as a structure taller than 100 feet was reinstated. Subsequently, the mayor then formed a task force to work on a new ordinance.
The tower failure has since fuelled a hot debate over zoning setbacks as a draft ordinance is considered.
Cell tower opponents capitalized on the failure to prove their point that towers should not be placed near homes, which would restrict the number of possible sites, while the other side objected to restrictive setbacks saying that trees are not subject to setbacks from nearby houses and they fall more often.
The proposed ordinance would repeal the existing conditional-use permit and hearing requirements. Property owners within 600 feet of a proposed tower would need to be notified, and the developer would have to wait 30 days after the property owner meetings before the tower could be built.