Not in my backyard

Athol residents object to Verizon Wireless proposed cell tower

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Lew VanDeMark, general manager of the Log Spirit Bed and Breakfast in Athol, points out the location of a proposed cell tower that would hinder the woodsy view from the business’ most popular balcony room.

ATHOL - The Log Spirit Bed and Breakfast near Athol boasts visitors will discover "wooded serenity."

Owner Robin McKellar doesn't want them to find a cell phone tower instead.

Along with 70 neighbors and nearby residents, McKellar objects to a proposal by Verizon Wireless to build a 150-foot cell phone tower on a neighbor's property on North Lone Moose Trail Road. They contend the project would be an eyesore, reduce property values and even affect their health.

"I didn't move to the country to have a cell phone tower next to me or that sort of equipment around," McKellar said.

A Kootenai County hearing examiner on Thursday evening considered testimony from representatives for Verizon Wireless and those opposing the company's request for conditional use permits and variances to construct three separate cell towers in Kootenai County.

Opposition was limited for towers proposed for 11385 W. Prairie Ave. in Post Falls and another at the northeast corner of Highway 41 and Grayeagle Road near Twin Lakes. Meanwhile, those against the proposed tower near Athol have come out in force.

It could be as long as two weeks before Hearing Examiner Steve Frampton makes a recommendation that county commissioners either approve or deny the projects. Verizon Wireless is asking the county to approve a variance because the cell tower would be 1.977 miles from the next nearest tower. According to county code, cell phone towers must be built at least 2 miles apart.

Roger and Dinah Ray Smith, owners of the proposed site on Lone Moose Trail Road, were the only supporters of Verizon Wireless' application.

Dinah Ray Smith said Verizon approached them about putting a cell phone tower on their property and that she researched the impact and ruled out any potential health risks before agreeing.

"There is a need for cell coverage in the area," Smith said. "The spot is a very good spot for them."

Verizon Wireless would be leasing property from the Smiths for the cell tower, Smith said, but she declined to say how much they would receive.

She disputes her neighbors' contentions that the tower will be an eyesore or reduce property values.

"Verizon will paint the tower green," she said. She said she doesn't believe neighbors will be able to see the towers from their homes and neighbors could "take a different route" to their homes if they didn't want to see the tower as they drove past.

As for property values, Smith said improved cell phone coverage could be a benefit.

"This is a technology age," she said. "It can be a property value in that you'll get better service. Why would it devalue your property?"

The tower is needed to "alleviate and remedy capacity challenges of the network" according to Verizon Wireless. Though applicants for cell phone towers are required under county code to list four other possible locations for each proposed tower, neighbor Richard Coons said that didn't happen.

He suggests Verizon Wireless consider building at a location closer to Bayview, where residents are clamoring for a cell tower.

McKellar said she doesn't understand the "capacity challenges" Verizon Wireless says the tower would remedy.

"I get great reception," she said. "Our whole system here is on cell phone - our business, Internet, personal phones - all of it on Verizon."

Dinah Ray Smith said she only receives "two bars" at her house, though.

Verizon Wireless would access the property using Smith's driveway off Black Bear Road. Coons said he and other property owners in the Bing Haven Estates neighborhood maintain the road and utilities for their homes are all underground.

"We're not against cell phone coverage," Coons said. "You just don't plunk a tower in the middle of a neighborhood where people have worked to make it nice."

The site of a proposed Verizon Wireless cell tower is near Lone Moose Trail in Athol.

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