May 11, 1998

Local News

County passes new cell tower rules

  by Woodinville Weekly staff

   SEATTLE-The King County Council passed new cell phone tower regulations early last week that require telecommunications companies to better inform the public before new cell towers are built and encourages them to co-locate their facilities. "It will give citizens many tools they didn't have before," said Council Chair Louise Miller (R-Woodinville).
   More than 90 new towers were proposed for unincorporated King County last year, partly in demand for cellular phone service. "It's not just the guy in the Mercedes anymore. People use cell phones everywhere, out on a boat or in the mountains," Miller said. But within 10 to 15 years, cellular technology may allow for the use of satellites. In case of that, Miller said language had been inserted in the new regulations that requires unused towers to be brought down within 180 days. She also said the new rules provided for an outside technical advisor "so we have comparable technical backing to what the companies have."
   The rules require companies to:
   * Hold community meetings for residents living near the proposed construction sites before permits are granted;
   * Increase setbacks for towers to be sited in certain areas, such as parks and residential areas;
   * Meet visual guidelines for towers, ensuring they "blend" into the surrounding community. Towers could be located in a grove of trees or on top of buildings in urban areas;
   * Receive a conditional use permit when constructing towers higher than 60-feet in residential areas;
   * Remove unused antennas.
   While some in the industry said the new regulations were "tough," opponents said the process was "controlled by the industry." "What we had to do was keep business at the table which is why this got painful," Miller said. The state legislature was within "two hours of allowing cell phone companies to construct their towers just about anywhere without restriction" this last session, she said.
   What was passed was close to what Miller proposed last fall to increase community awareness and involvement in construction of cell towers. Last March, Councilmembers Cynthia Sullivan and Brian Derdowski introduced a measure which would have halted construction of new towers in unincorporated King County for six-months. That was whittled to three months before county prosecutors advised against it.