INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A special-use permit needed for the construction of a 112-foot cell phone tower is slated to go before a Washoe County review board next month.
If a recent meeting of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Citizen Advisory Board is any indication, next month's meeting of the Washoe County Board of Adjustment will almost assuredly be jam packed with public comment,
More than five months after the project first became public, it remains a point of controversy among residents, with concerns ranging from potential health impacts to the need for improved bandwidth, particularly during peak visitation times when cell service can slow to a crawl.
All these points, and more, were raised before the Incline CAB at its March 4 meeting.
However, as was pointed out toward the end of an approximately two-hour discussion, the CAB functions to advise the county, in this case the Board of Adjustment. Ultimately, the board agreed to pass along the abundance of information presented by residents and refrain from weighing in one way or another.
The topic before them was specifically for a special-use permit that is required due to the proposed height of the tower. As Washoe County Planner Julee Olander explained, this special-use permit is based on the applicant's ability to show there is a need for improved cell coverage.
"He has to show that there needs to be overage," Olander said.
John Petersen of Incline Partners LLC, the company attempting to build the tower, argued there is a need for improved cell coverage, particularly to the south and west of the proposed tower site, which is located roughly 100 feet south of the intersection of Incline Way and Village Boulevard.
The tower could carry up to four carriers' antenna arrays, meaning improved service would not be limited to any on single carrier, such as Verizon or AT&T.
Petersen told the CAB that he has received interest from the major carriers about getting on the tower.
"We would be crazy to spend $300,000 on a tower that people aren't interested in," he remarked.
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the tower, arguing that the area needs greater wireless capacity — an argument frequently made on social media forums, including the Incline Village Facebook group.
The matter can be a public safety issue, especially during peak times such as the Fourth of July, one man argued.
However, the bulk of those who spoke at Monday's CAB meeting echoed previous concerns about possible health impacts and the aesthetics of the tower.
The proposed location would be in the heart of the community — which is by design in order to maximize improved service. It would be located approximately 65 feet from the building that houses Incline Dental Care.
The tower would be designed to resemble a tree. However, some questioned how realistic that "disguise" would work. Others pointed out that the tower would be taller than any of the trees surrounding it.
Others, including members of a small group that successfully fought a proposed tower planned near Incline High School in 2012, questioned the need for the tower and whether any potential benefits would be worth the potential negative impacts.
"I think it's going too fast and I'm against it," said John Eppolito, who helped spearhead the 2012 effort against the tower near the high school.
Margaret Martini, another resident who fought against the tower in 2012, said the potential pitfalls of the project far outweigh any possible benefits.
Amid the discussion of location, some suggested putting the tower on the Cal Neva property, owned by billionaire Larry Ellison.
Petersen, who said this project has been in the works for roughly three years, said they looked at other sites but the proposed site was the best fit.
Whether that ultimately proves to be true will come down to the Board of Adjustment, which is tentatively scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. April 4 in the county commission chambers in Reno.
As Olander repeated to the Tribune, the board will be considering the special-use permit. If the applicant wants to move forward, they will be required to obtain building permits as well.
Also, there is the matter of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Plans were submitted to the agency in 2018 but it has yet to be approved.
TRPA spokesperson Adam Jensen said the agency typically tries to give local jurisdictions the ability to approve cell towers before it comes to TRPA for a hearing.
"We expect it to come before the agency's hearings officer if it receives approval from the county," Jensen told the Tribune.