P&Z agrees with the public static over cell towers
A plan to build three cellular telephone towers on the grounds of the Smuggler Mine was tripped up by history last night.The proposal to build telecommunications towers at the mine, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has faced stiff opposition since it was first proposed last fall.And that pattern continued last night. About a half-dozen residents from the surrounding neighborhoods – Williams Ranch, Silverlode and Centennial – testified against the plan.”Ask yourself,” said opposition spokesman Gerald Wendel, “is this use so essential that we need to degrade a historic site of national significance?”The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission didn’t think so, and voted unanimously to recommend denial of the proposal by S.B.A., Inc. The Denver-based company builds towers and leases antenna space to cellular telephone and pager companies.After a two-hour hearing, most of which was consumed by a presentation by S.B.A. representative Jett Wunsche, the commissioners agreed that the proposal was in violation of the section of the county land-use code that governs historic preservation.Their vote came in spite of a letter from the Colorado Historical Society that read, “Based upon the photographic simulation provided depicting the appearance of the proposed tower, it is our opinion that no historic properties would be affected.”The commissioners weren’t swayed by the work the company had done to lessen the visual impacts of the towers. Nor did they buy into Wunsche’s claim that the towers were necessary to serve Aspen’s cellular, digital and Internet future.”Are you going to wait until a fiber optic line is dropped in the ground from Glenwood to Aspen, destroying the town while it’s going in?” asked Wunsche immediately before the vote.The crux of Wunsche’s case was that the towers would not be visible from many locations, and even when people could see them, they wouldn’t be very noticeable. Both she and the county planner working on the application noted that the company had drastically changed the original proposal, which called for one 80-foot tower surrounded by flag poles.Smuggler Mountain abuts many of the working class neighborhoods on the outskirts of Aspen. The mine is located near its base, and S.B.A. is asking to build three 47-foot towers in a natural depression in the landscape that is set away from the historic buildings.”We can take advantage of the elevation and location at this site to effectively cover the town,” Wunsche said. She pointed out that well-placed towers like the one her firm was proposing actually reduce the need for towers elsewhere.And she wasn’t alone with the argument that Aspenites could use a few more towers. James Fosnaught, who moved to town recently, pointed out that cellular service is limited at best.”I’m urging you to approve these towers because we need better cell service in town,” he said. “I also think Aspen cannot live completely in the past; it needs to live in the future too.”But most of the testimony came from people who are vehemently opposed to the idea.Greg Simmons pointed out that Smuggler is Aspen’s gateway to the backcountry, and that the towers would degrade that experience.Mark Friedland, a 12-year resident and father of four, had serious concerns about the long-term health effects of living so close to the towers.”I wonder if any of you want to live within 300 feet of a cellular tower and raise four children,” he said to the commissioners. “Unless you’re willing to answer yes, then you have to vote no on this application.””I think the word you’re looking for to explain what’s happening here is `desecration,'” said Sheldon Fingerman. “I think people come here not only to ski, but to see where Aspen came from.”The Pitkin County commissioners will consider the P&Z’s recommendation when they make a final decision regarding the towers at a future meeting.
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