Washington City Hall

It has been more than four months since city leaders approved permits for the controversial 155-foot cell phone tower on Alberta Lane, but now those same city leaders are saying residents upset by the tower’s construction have grounds for appeal. 

“Is it disguised? That is the question that we have to answer now,” said Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb. He said the addition of new, large antennae have altered the planned design for the tower. 

The tower, which was initially supposed to be disguised as a pine tree, has drawn the ire of some City Council members, such as Fourth Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Pettet who said she has heard from residents who are upset by the tower’s construction. 

“There are disguised cell towers that blend in, this doesn’t blend in at all,” Pettet said during meeting of the Washington City Council during a discussion on the appeal process. 

According to Lamb, an appeal would need to be submitted to the Washington Board of Adjustment, which consists of five members: Susan Harms, Kevin Kriete, Gwen Mauntel, Lloyd Miesner and Jason Pellin. Nancy Walkenhorst is listed as an alternate should one of the five members not be able to attend a hearing. 

Those members would have a special hearing to discuss the submitted design for the cell phone tower and compare it to what was constructed.

At the meeting earlier this month, Lamb said city staff members will assist any resident who has questions about the appeals process or the necessary paperwork they will need to submit. 

The topic of constructing a monopole cell phone tower, which was proposed by companies acting on behalf of AT&T, was first broached last year. At the time, proponents of the cell phone tower were asking the city for a special use permit to construct a 175-foot cellphone tower that was needed “because they were unable to collocate, or share, another existing tower.” City leaders rejected the proposal on the grounds that it didn’t meet the required setback distances. In May, a different developer came forward to build a disguised cell phone tower.  

Disguised cell towers are difficult to stop, according to Washington Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci. 

“Back in 2014, there was a change that highly protects cell phone towers to the point that the city really can only regulate the tower’s height and setbacks,” Maniaci said in May. “There was very little the city could do and can do to stop it when it comes to a disguised cellphone tower.” 

He said because of the state law and city codes, a public hearing on the cell tower was not required since the developer was no longer seeking a special use permit.

A disguised cell tower could, per current city code, be made to look like a range of structures, including a clock tower, an observation tower, a water tower or artificial trees. Maniaci said there are other disguised cell towers or cell antennas in Washington, including some antennas on water towers. He said the flagpole on Cecilia Drive, which is located roughly a third of a mile away from Alberta Lane, is a disguised cell tower. 

Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said, “But this (cell tower on Alberta Lane) just towers over everything.”