The Danville Planning Commission postponed consideration of a proposed Verizon Wireless cell tower disguised as a fake water tank, asking instead Tuesday night that town staff and the Design Review Board look at other design concepts for the project.
The decision came following a 90-minute public discussion that included criticisms from commissioners and a group of Danville residents raising concerns about aesthetics, acoustics and whether a new tower was actually needed to improve Verizon service levels.
Plans, developed by Verizon consultant Anthem Telecom, called for six wireless communication antennas inside a 30-foot-tall faux water tank accompanied by an equipment storage facility designed to resemble a barn on an Elworthy Ranch Circle hillside near the Quail Ridge neighborhood.
"To me (the proposed tower) looks like it should be in Toontown, in Disneyland" commissioner Robert Combs said lodging his criticism Tuesday night. "Sometimes a single-pole antenna that reaches above the tree line looks better ... We're not a Western town anymore; we certainly have Western roots, but we don't have hitching posts like we used to."
Combs, who said he was baffled the proposal didn't first head to the town's Design Review Board before coming to the commission, added that he thought a monopine, or faux oak tree, design would be more fitting in the existing topography of the project site.
The water tower concept, and accompanying barn-like storage unit, were meant to blend in with the area and keep to the appearance of the surroundings, but commission members indicated they thought that design would disturb the natural ambiance of the area.
The commissioners voted unanimously to hold off on a final decision Tuesday night and ask the Design Review Board to look at design options. They also requested further analysis on Verizon's coverage levels, backup power for the tower and other possible placements at the site.
The move came about six months after they commission approved a faux tree Verizon cell antenna for a rural residential site on Lawrence Road, only to see the Town Council shut down that project in November. Key issues in the earlier project -- such as appearance, noise and purported coverage caps -- were raised again by speakers Tuesday night.
The commission heard from 10 resident speakers, all of whom opposed the project, and another 11 people registered their opposition without commenting.
"Put it up the hill and you can disguise it as an oak tree," Elworthy Ranch Drive resident Ken Cantrell said. "So we don't have the noise, we don't have the visual, all that in such close proximity to our homes."
David Crompton, town principal planner, said 11 sites in all were analyzed as potential homes for the new Verizon tower, but no feasible alternative existed to fill the significant gap in coverage cited by the company while still keeping with town officials' requirements and preferences on size and location.
The project site is a five-acre parcel at 377 Elworthy Ranch Cir., and the Quail Ridge development's homes would be between the tower and Interstate 680, blocking it from view of freeway travelers, Crompton said.
Evan Shepherd Reiff, Anthem Telecom materials requirements planning consultant, told the Planning Commission on Tuesday that the wireless company is open to concessions in the tower's presentation.
"It's not easy to create a site in a neighborhood that provides for everyone's wishes to be fulfilled," Reiff said. "We have offered to accept conditions of approval."
Potential vexatious noise from the prospective tower was another concern for residents.
A noise study prepared by Bollard Acoustical Consultants, Inc. found that sound emitted would top out at 49 decibels -- equivalent to a floor fan and less than the 50-60 decibels allowed by the town's General Plan. The worry voiced by several speakers had to do with the tower's ability to host a second carrier company and how that would impact noise levels.
That fear is unfounded, according to consultant Bill Hammett of Hammett and Edison, Inc. The addition of equipment necessary to include a second carrier would raise the noise produced by less than a decibel, he told the commission.
Residents were also concerned about noise from a diesel generator, along with 137 gallons of diesel fuel, to be kept on-site in case of power outages and for twice-monthly, 15-minute testing and maintenance services.
Combs requested that future plans include a backup battery in place of the generator, saying power outages lasting more than an hour have been few and far between in town. A rechargeable battery able to operate the tower for eight hours, he said, would be sufficient.
Questions were also raised about whether there actually are gaps in Verizon coverage. Several speakers contended there are no service issues within the proposed coverage areas.
Resident Ashish Kumar said he has traveled throughout the area Verizon claims needs improved coverage and has found no service shortfalls.
"I have been a Verizon customer for more than 15 years, and I trek on those trails up the hill. I have yet to drop a call, and I have never had a signal issue," Kumar said.
Like the citizen speakers, the commission was in full agreement that the proposal, as-is, was not in the best interest of the town.
While the commissioners agreed current or near-future coverage gaps necessitate a new tower and the Elworthy Ranch Circle site is a favorable location, they sent Anthem and Verizon in search of assistance from the Design Review Board on the appearance of the tower.
The commissioners also stipulated that the wireless company pay for a third-party review of the actual service gap before the project returns to the commission.
They also asked for more information on backup power options other than diesel generators, a National Environmental Policy Act environmental assessment must be completed and a study of other potential tower locations on the property.