YUCAIPA — The Yucaipa Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a cell phone tower on the border of Redlands and Yucaipa Wednesday night.
Redlands resident Pamela Smyth has opposed plans to build a 65-foot cell phone tower at the edge of her property on Outer Highway 10. The property where the company signed a lease to build the tower is in Yucaipa.
The commission approved the permit for Royal Street Communications 6-1.
Smyth and her sister Penny Fedorchak, co-owner of the property, said after the hearing they were discouraged and disappointed.
“Pam has done an extreme amount of research on the variances they are disregarding,” Fedorchak said.
Smyth said she could file a court injunction to stop construction of the tower, but it is financially not an option.
“It’s over and it’s better,” she said. “We fought.”
Royal Street representative Veronica Arvizu presented the commission with modifications, which the commission asked for at the Dec. 16 meeting.
Royal Street originally proposed to build the tower 46 feet from Smyth’s house and agreed at the Dec. 16 meeting to change it to 65 feet from the home. The company proposed a cypress tree design to blend in with other trees on the neighboring property.
Arvizu showed digitally altered images of the property, with the tower placed in a row of trees, which would include two new live trees.
“Was the location of the trees on the property (considered),” commissioner Denise Work asked. “The biggest complaint was it would block the view from the windows.”
In the proposal the commission approved, the tower would be moved back from Smyth’s property, but not sideways.
“I recognize the efforts brought forward to improve the site but it doesn’t really fit the situation,” Smyth said.
Smyth gave a presentation at the Dec. 16 meeting using digitally altered photos showing how the tower would ruin the view from her large living room window. She lives in her family’s 85-year-old farm house.
Smyth, Fedorchak and Redlands resident Russ Huston said colocating — sharing a tower with another provider — is the solution. Huston said he was negotiating colocation with Royal Street and gave the commission a letter from Royal Street agreeing to colocation on a pole on property he owns nearby.
Arvizu said Royal Street’s Tom Hanna made a deal with Huston because he thought a new tower would be built. Huston’s pole is not suitable because it is too short — 62.5 feet — and could not be heightened enough for the 10 feet of required space between antennae, she said.
“Colocation is not possible so in our eyes there has to be a new tower somewhere,” she said.
Before the commission voted, commissioner Jeff Lojeski said the coverage would seem to benefit drivers on Interstate 10 more than Yucaipa or Redlands residents. Royal Street serves Metro PCS users.
“It’s an industrial area, so it’s a tough call,” said commissioner David Alban.
Arvizu said the company prefers to colocate — “we do not like owning towers,” she said.
After the meeting, Smyth said what bothered her most was Royal Street signed a lease before going through the legal requirement of investigating colocation.
Arvizu said the company needs to honor the lease with the Yucaipa business owner.
“The legal team was told the lease existed prior and we need to respect that,” she said.
Carol Smith, who helped lead a group opposing a 90-foot Sprint tower in Prospect Park, contacted Smyth in December to offer support.
“It was such a lesson for me — I got thrown into the role of leading the neighbors,” she said.
She said it was one of the most stressful times in her life, and it must be even tougher to Smyth and her sister to go it alone.
She and her neighbors brought “all the arguments I could think of” — historical, health, financial, she said. She circulated a petition and a newsletter.
In the end, it came down to her group showing that Sprint had deceived the Environmental Review Committee and the city about changes in its proposal.
“We had argued all along Sprint had not changed their plans from the beginning,” she said.
She said the tower was a watershed for the cell tower issue in Redlands.
“It was the first truly contested tower that went through the motions,” Smith said. “We were able to get residents to show concerns.”
She said the commission and the city were in the difficult position of having to deny their own interests and those of a large corporation.
“I think the city was so convinced it would help with the budget problems,” she said. “It’s just very hard to argue against money.”
She said the groups’ attorney told her after Sprint pulled out he did not think it could be done.
“It’s a very difficult thing, but it was so worth fighting for,” she said. “I’m glad we stuck it through.”