Sprint/Nextel drop their call in Basalt
BASALT ” Basalt’s B-Hill will remain free of antennas for cell phone service after the Town Council reversed itself on the issue Tuesday night.
The council voted 6-0 to deny a request by Sprint/Nextel to erect up to six antennas on the geographic landmark that one councilman labeled “a sacred place.” B-Hill is a prominent ridge on the town’s east side, so named because of the white-washed rocks sometimes visible in the shape of a “B”.
The decision was a surprise since the council voted 5-2 in mid-November to approve use of B-Hill for the company’s telecommunications equipment. Two votes were required for approval. Council members Amy Capron, Laurie Dows, Mark Kittle and Glenn Rappaport reversed their votes, generally citing citizen input.
Councilmen Chris Seldin and Gary Tennenbaum were opposed to the cell equipment in both votes. Mayor Leroy Duroux didn’t vote last night, which legally amounted to an abstention.
While the board voted to deny Sprint/Nextel’s proposal, they agreed to study areas in and around town where the equipment would be appropriate.
The board’s change of heart came after about a dozen speakers expressed opposition to the request during a public hearing at Basalt Town Hall. Most, if not all, of the residents were from the Elk Run subdivision at the base of B Hill. In addition, roughly 40 people submitted comments against the proposed equipment.
“Well, somebody’s really stirred up the hornet’s nest,” Rappaport noted.
Jen Cramer, who helped organize opposition, told the council too many questions remain about the health risks from telecommunications equipment to allow it to be installed where so many children live, play and attend school. “I feel like we’re subjecting ourselves as guinea pigs right now,” she said.
Sprint/Nextel officials stated their equipment would be within standards for radio frequency radiation set by the Federal Communications Commission. The firm proposed to place its antennas on the hillside in groups of two. Each pair would have one support structure.
One support structure would be designed to hold up the holiday star that has been lit on B-Hill for decades. The other combinations of support structures and antennas would be hidden by faux trees.
“Whether you hide it with a star or a fake tree, it’s still a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak,” said Cramer.
Federal law prohibits local governments from prohibiting telecommunications equipment on the basis of health risks, so council members targeted the proposal for being incompatible with the neighborhood and with the zoning.
Tennenbaum said he would like to work with Guido Meyer’s family, which owns most of B-Hill, to preserve it as open space. “It should be free of urban development,” Tennenbaum said.
Seldin said approving this application could set a precedent for other companies to propose use of B-Hill for their equipment. He noted that Sprint/Nextel sent a letter to the town government earlier hinting at possible litigation. He isn’t buying it.
“I won’t be bullied by threats of litigation into approving this,” Seldin said.
Duroux said he felt the town could benefit from improved service from Sprint/Nextel, but that citizens had clearly spoken against use of B-Hill. He didn’t explain his abstention.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.