Cell Tower Ordinance at Planning Commission Work Session March 25
Last fall, HRVRC organized a Citizen Advisory committee last fall to work on an ordinance to regulate the siting and design of cellular communications towers. The Advisory Committee was sparked into existence by a number of controversial applications for towers proposed near residential areas. Currently, Hood River County does not have any specific zoning rules for cell towers. The Advisory Committee met 3 times and was plugging away, albeit slowly, at crafting an ordinance based on the prior work of former County Planner Anne Debbaut. The speed of progress on the regulations changed considerably when the Hood River County Board of Commissioners made implementing an ordinance to regulate the siting of cellular communication towers a priority for this year at their 2015 Goal Setting Session.
New Community Development Director, John Roberts fasted tracked work on the ordinance. He convened two long meetings with the Committee and planning staff where we carefully went through the draft ordinance line by line. The result will be presented at a Planning Commission work session tonight at 7 pm, at the County Building, 601 State Street. Here is the draft ordinance and staff report.
The Planning Commission will review the draft and make changes tonight. Public hearings will then be scheduled.
HRVRC is supportive of the ordinance, it provides a good balance of protecting neighborhoods from the negative visual effects of towers while allowing their placement in suitable areas to ensure our county’s residents have adequate cell service. The ordinance only applies to the areas of the county outside city limits and National Scenic Area. The City of Hood River and Cascade Locks have their own zoning regulations and the Scenic Area requires a multi-party process rather than being something that Hood River County can achieve on its own. HRVRC does highly recommend that the County go through the process to get the regulations adopted in the Scenic Areas as well. Many of the most controversial sites–like the tower that was proposed for Fairview in 2013–are located in the Scenic Area.
CITIZEN-INITIATED ADVISORY COMMITTEE FORMED TO DRAFT CELLULAR COMMUNICATIONS TOWER ORDINANCE
A couple of recent controversial applications for cellular communication towers in residential neighborhoods has brought attention to the fact that our county does not have zoning code which specifically regulates cell tower placement or design. Currently, cell towers are regulated under vague and general approval criteria from several different code sections. The land-use process for hotly contested towers can be messy and expensive placing significant burdens on the County Planning Department, applicants, and neighbors alike. A cell tower ordinance would lead to a more predictable, streamlined and economically efficient process for everyone by clearly delineating where towers can and cannot go and by introducing design standards to limit their impact on neighborhoods.
The County got very close to drafting just such an ordinance six years ago but the project was abandoned when the Great Recession forced significant layoffs in County planning staff. In October, HRVRC, together with a number of interested citizens, approached the Board of Commissioners about forming a Citizen Advisory Committee to re-start the process. We proposed that a citizen-initiated group could ease the burden on staff by doing much of the foundation work of crafting a cell tower ordinance for our county. The Commissioners gave us the green light to form a committee and start work.
The Advisory Committee will build on the previous work done by county planning staff and research the code of other jurisdictions. Committee members will include interested community members, wireless industry representatives, two Planning Commissioners and a professional planner. HRVRC has offered to provide organizational and research support to help the Committee complete its work. The Committee hopes to have a draft ordinance to present to the Planning Commission in early 2015.
In the meantime, Proland LLC’s application for a cell tower to be sited along Multnomah Drive has been put on hold while the applicant looks at the feasibility of other potential sites.