Menifee city council denies AT&T cell tower at Wheatfield Park until a final resolution vote

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The Menifee City Council after lengthy discussion, Dec. 11, voted to approve the City Planning Commission’s denial of AT&T’s request to build a 30-foot high cell tower in Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District’s Wheatfield Park.

The action by a 3-2 vote denied Smartlink, on behalf of AT&T’s request, to permit the construction of the cell tower in the park, at 30627 Menifee Road. The planning commission earlier denied their conditional use permit 2018-078. In the Nov. 6 meeting the planning commission forwarded the denial, noting, while it had met all the necessary city building requirements and had the approval of Valley-Wide to construct the tower, it still might threaten the safety of city park visitors, interfere with city events in the park and may be better located elsewhere.

A number of residents living near the park appeared at the earlier meeting asking the council not to approve the tower because it would interfere with their line of site to the annual fireworks display, children might be endangered by climbing the tower and other problems. Several members of the council suggested AT&T could find other locations in the city or area to erect the tower and provide the gap coverage they reportedly needed. An AT&T representative at that meeting said they had searched for another location but were either denied it or it would not work to fill the coverage gap.

The council continued the public hearing on the matter giving the staff and AT&T a number of questions to be answered about the feasibility of having the site at the park. Those questions were responded to by AT&T and staff at the Dec. 11 hearing.

AT&T representative Alexa Dunlap at the podium said all the council’s questions were answered by the firm’s counsel showing that the Wheatfield Park location was the most viable of all other locations and only the macro-tower would be sufficient to fill the coverage gap. No amount of smaller towers could fill that gap.

The council then discussed the issue amongst themselves with Councilmember Greg August saying he was still concerned about the carrier’s federal rights to build the tower despite the city’s wishes and he wanted to resolve an issue with Valley-Wide to have the city eventually buy or take over the park in the near future. Then, he said, the city would have no use for the $1.2 million tower and most likely tear it down with no advantage to AT&T.

Councilmember Lesa Sobek questioned AT&T’s efforts to reach a landowner across the Interstate 15 in the city to build the tower that according to the carrier would still fill the coverage gap. Dunlap said they tried to contact the land owner but got no response and figured they had no interest.

Councilmember Matt Liesemeyer said he still wondered if the small towers would be effective, but said the fire department did not think the tower would interfere with the annual fireworks display.

Councilmember Dean Deines agreed AT&T should try again to reach the landowner across the freeway. He was concerned that absent any problem with the site by the city engineers, “How can we deny (AT&T) the appeal?”

Mayor Bill Zimmerman said he believed if the city denies the cell tower CUP, it should still work with AT&T to help find them another viable site and make every effort to contact the landowner.

The hearing on the cell tower again brought up a question that if the mobile carrier was denied the location could they try to sue the city since it met all the necessary building and zoning requirements. There was no indication of what AT&T might do if the request was denied.

Still not convinced AT&T couldn’t find another place for the tower, the council took a vote with the majority upholding the planning commission’s denial and the current Smartlink’s appeal with the intention of the city staff continuing to work with the carrier to find another suitable location before a vote on a final resolution is brought before the council.

Zimmerman and Deines voted to grant AT&T their appeal, while the remaining three council members denied the appeal pending future discussions with AT&T and the creation of the final resolution by staff to come before the council in the next meeting.

Other actions saw the council adopt an ordinance authorizing the approval of electronic and paperless filing of Fair Political Practices Commission Campaign Disclosure Statement authorized by the government: approved an agreement for Technical Studies and initial Study-Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Lindenberger subdivision; award a professional services agreement to Kimley-Horn for design services of Scot/Menifee Road Sidewalk work in an amount not to exceed $65,000 and award a professional services agreement with KOA Corporation for design of Paloma Wash Trail in the amount of $69,245 services with lighting involved.

Tony Ault may be emailed at tault@reedermedia.com.