No more (mono)pining over cell phone towers as council moves closer to finalizing regulations

This City Council story replaces an earlier unfinished version, which was posted in error.

The last time the Edmonds City Council met to discuss what cell phone towers should look like in Edmonds, City Councilmember Michael Plunkett had a singular focus: How to best ensure that one version of said towers — known as a monopole — is sufficiently disguised to look like a tree.

Plunkett continued this path during Tuesday night’s council meeting, when citizens were given a chance to comment on a plan to oversee both the placement of wireless antennae and their appearance based on city design standards. (There wasn’t much in the way of citizen comment, although the public hearing did draw two representatives of the wireless industry.)

After one of the industry representatives — Richard Busch, president of Northwest Wireless Association — suggested that so-called “monopines” could be a good choice for parks or other wooded locations — Plunkett said he believed that the council should have the final say on any such structure proposed for Edmonds. “There’s going to be some judgment, “Plunkett said, and I’d like that judgment to be made by the council.”

City staff present to answer questions noted that leaving the decision in the hands of councilmembers would make it difficult for staff to provide guidance to companies planning to install such towers. “We can’t say monopines will be approved if the council likes what they look like,” said Michael Clugston of the Planning Department.

In addition, Clugston noted it’s unlikely that the city would have many — if any — monopoles since the proposed regulations label them “the least preferred” use requiring a conditional use permit that would be reviewed through a city hearing examiner.

Plunkett went so far as to make a motion for an amendment that would require council to make the final call on tree-disguised towers but later withdrew it, admitting that the motion was “a solution looking for a problem.”

In the end, the council voted unanimously to have staff develop an ordinance governing wireless facilities and bring it back for final review and approval. The preferred placement for such facilities, by the way, is co-location — essentially placing a new antenna on existing sites such as a building or a utility pole. Guyed lattice towers would not be permitted.

Councilmembers also revisited an issue they considered in April: Whether to amend the Edmonds Community Development Code to reduce the required street setbacks for the Westgate Community Commercial Center from 20 feet to 8 feet along State Route 104 and from 20 feet to 5 feet along 100th Avenue West. The last time this was introduced, Council was told that a developer was hoping to build a bank building in the Westgate neighborhood and would prefer reduced street setbacks to bring the building closer to the street.  At the time, councilmembers voted 5-2 against the plan, stating they didn’t want to make a hasty decision based on the needs of one developer. On Tuesday night, also on a 5-2 vote, councilmembers voted to table the idea until they hear from the University of Washington on a development plan for both the Westgate and Five Corners neighborhoods, scheduled to be presented to the Council June 21.

“I don’t see the harm in waiting just two weeks to get a good look at the report,” Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said.

In other business, the Council heard three reports:

– From the Edmonds Library Board, which noted that the library had 241,609 users come through its doors in 2010 and also presented 313 free programs. After the presentation, Council President Strom Peterson reminded the councilmembers and the public that the Library will be officially renamed in honor of late City Councilmember Peggy Pritchard Olson, during a ceremony at 5 p.m. June 21.

– From Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite, a report on recent repairs to Yost Pool, which included a complete replastering, the addition of six racing lanes and replacement of some fingertip tiles. Replacement of the ADA lift, at a cost of $14,000 — will occur Wednesday, Hite said. Long term, the pool’s boiler needs to be replaced in the next two to three years and the bathhouse/locker room structure also eventually needs to be redone, she added.

Hite also shared the financials for Yost in 2010, which included $141,425 in revenues and $207,456 in expenses. However, if you subtract the cost of maintenance staff — which are working on other projects year-round in addition to seasonal tasks at the pool —  the pool expenses would equal $166,515, she said.

Yost, which officially opened Monday, also provided free admission to Edmonds residents last weekend and drew about 200 people, she said.

– From Public Works Director Phil Williams, a report on final construction costs for Five Corners Booster Pump Station improvements, which included replacing valves and piping within the station, upgrading the existing telemetry controls, seismic upgrades and additional security at the reservoir. The final cost was $1,168,903, more than the $1,103,660 originally budgeted because lead-based paint was discovered in the soil at the Five Corners site, likely related to the repainting and reconditioning of the reservoir in 1996.

  1. Interesting that the setback discussion got tabled AGAIN. The UW study’s interim results have already been presented numerous times, and in numerous venues, with a clear recommendation to relate buildings more closely with the street (vice having to cross parking lots on foot to reach a building). This means that the UW study will recommend reduced setbacks.

    The last time this issue was brought up, the Council decided to push the issue to the Planning Board, which debated it at length. The Planning Board modified the initial recommendation of 5 ft setbacks, to provide a wider 8 ft setback along Rt 104. There is nothing in the UW study that will, in any way, add to this discussion, as the Planning Board took into consideration all of the interim reports from the UW study that have already been issued. And the Council knows this.

    I will not speculate as to the reasoning of Council members’ tabling of this issue, purportedly in order to wait for a “final” report that will clearly not shed any additional light on the issue of setbacks. But I disapprove of the additional delay.

    Obstruction is never progress – either vote it down, modify it, or approve it as is.

  2. Todd, when you speak it is usually very factual and very complete very accurate. Thanks for help us all understand the history. Like you many folks may be puzzled about the Council’s delay. There is past evidence that when Council waits for a final report it is done so some on council can find a way to attack the report itself in order to not do something. In this case the pubic input is looks to be pretty clear. I wonder what strategies some on the Council will reveal in there support or lack of support for the up comming development of a Strategic Plan for Edmonds? That will be fun to watch.

  3. I totally agree with Todd. The planning board did there job and should be thanked for doing a very extensive and through discussion of the issue. Delays almost never lead to good policy. Come on council make some dicissions

  4. I owe you all an apology for the story that was posted. This is not the final version and the end makes no sense. I am going to attempt to recreate what I had at 1:30 this morning and repost shortly.

  5. Todd and Don,

    I just watched the entire council discussion on this issue. The decision was postponed until council could review the results of the UW study on the Westgate area which will be presented to them in two weeks. It was a good discussion, they carefully considered the planning board’s recommendation and generally supported it, but chose to wait for the study. The vote to postpone the decision was 5-2, with Bernheim and Peterson voting no.

  6. I had a chance to watch some of the discussion about Westgate. What I couldn’t understand was the concern expressed about the loss of sight distance at the intersection with buildings being located closer to the sidewalks. Of course there would be a loss of sight distance, but how is that a problem at an intersection fully controlled by traffic lights? What am I missing?

  7. OK, everyone. I figured out the problem. WordPress miraculously saves all previous versions and it turns out that this full correct one I wrote early this a.m. existed – so no recreation was necessary. My apologies for not rereading it all the way through after it was posted to ensure accuracy! And Ron, as I recall no one specifically mentioned why they were concerned about site distance although it could be related to people pulling out of parking lots during busy traffic times?

  8. Joan – I understand what they said was the reason for delay; my contention was that this stated reason was not sufficient, as all of the information has already been presented. Further delay will not lead to any greater understanding of the issues.

    Ron – the issue of sight distances includes more than the corners with lights. We had this discussion at Planning Board as well, and found that the current code adequately covers sight distances separately from set-backs. Set-backs are not in place for sight distance, sight distance requirements are independent, and will be reviewed as part of any proposal.

  9. Todd,

    We have paid for a study by UW, and they have been working on it for about a year. It’s interesting that you would say that “Further delay will not lead to any greater understanding of the issues.” The two week delay is so council can review the study and see how the UW findings on the Westgate area fit with the planning board’s recommendation on this one development project.

    Even if the planning board’s recommendation was unanimous, reviewing the study first would still be a good idea. I’d call that due diligence.

  10. Joan – I concur with due diligence. I apologize if my note seemed to imply that I disregard the study itself. As I have been to every meeting (save one) that the UW group has held, I would like to reiterate my commitment to the process, and my eagerness to transform their findings into productive changes to our neighborhood centers.

    My assertion was not that the study should be disregarded, but rather that the results of the study were already well defined weeks ago, and the “final report” is not based on any additional input, but rather cleans up the recommendations and presentation.

    As the results are already well-known to those who have seen the presentations (several times), that’s why I said that further delay would not lead to any greater understanding of the issues. The Council’s assertion that delay will provide them more information is simply wrong. Seems less like due diligence, and more like seeking “top cover” by using someone else’s final presentation as justification for making a reasonable change, vice just doing it.

    I don’t know why there is this reluctance to act, but it is excruciating to bear the slow grind of inaction and posturing, while watching our City’s economic future get strangled for what I perceive are political points. Note that I am not saying they should necessarily say YES to every proposal, but that their job is to make decisions once there is enough info to do so. Waiting for the appearance of “perfect” information, or for the top-cover of someone else’s formal report, is not leadership.

    Uncertainty is the enemy of economic development. People are justifiably reluctant to invest their time, energy, and money when the outcome is made less certain through delay and inaction. If the Council would get into the habit of acting firmly and clearly, that would reduce uncertainty, and might give more business people some confidence in our City.

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