A towering dilemma on Crown Mountain | AspenTimes.com

A towering dilemma on Crown Mountain

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

EL JEBEL ” Wearing their developers hats Tuesday, Pitkin County commissioners chose a preliminary design for new communications towers on Crown Mountain overlooking Orchard Plaza in El Jebel.

The proposed towers would replace a building and four 1970s-era communications towers that county officials said are hazardous ” with structural problems and decaying guyed wires.

County staff presented three options for the mountaintop project, and the board agreed on what they determined was the least obtrusive plan, with one 70-foot tower, two 50-foot towers and one building shared by a handful of service providers.

The mountaintop is home to television and radio translators as well as public safety communications for Pitkin County, Basalt and Eagle County.

“It’s a very important site for the valley,” said Tessa Lemke, communications site manager.

Cell phone service providers Verizon and Sprint/Nextel would pay all of the upfront costs to build the towers. The companies would then recover their costs in rent-free use of the towers until the balance was made up.

Area businesses would share rented space on the towers and in the building. The mountaintop could be home to wireless Internet providers, and the towers could accommodate new businesses in the future, according to county staff.

The proposed tower project is the first of some seven planned tower replacements in coming years outlined in a county communications master plan.

The plan chosen Tuesday will face special review, site plan approval and height variance hearings, but is within bounds of the county land-use code, according to Lance Clarke, Pitkin County’s assistant director for community development.

Other planned tower upgrades, however, could require a land-use code amendment.

“This is a public project that must go forward,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, adding that emergency services and area law enforcement need adequate communications.

Commissioner Rachel Richards added that commercial communication, such as cell phone service, also are important to public safety.

The board rejected a first plan with two towers outfitted with what they said would be unsightly outriggers, as well as a second plan that, while less obtrusive, would include long guyed wires connected to anchors on steep slopes. (Guyed wires are also dangerous to birds.)

County staff suggested and the board agreed on the third plan, which would include three free-standing towers ” two set slightly lower on the slopes ” and one shared building. County staff and the board will look at a new building application in coming months.