Planning commission OKs microwave tower

In a unanimous vote, the Homer Advisory Planning Commission last week approved a conditional-use permit to allow a 160-foot microwave tower to be built on Easy Street off Skyline Drive. The commission initially had voted 4-2, one vote shy of the supermajority city code requires to approve conditional-use permits, but after reconsideration and further discussion approved the CUP in a 6-0 vote.

The tower idea came about after the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District put out a request for proposals to build a microwave relay tower to provide broadband Internet service to schools in Port Graham and Nanwalek. The site also would allow service to East End Road communities, Halibut Cove and Nikolaevsk. It also would allow telemedicine capabilities — that is, connecting by high-speed Internet with medical professionals outside the villages. The Kenai Kodiak Cable Company-Kodiak Microwave System responded to the request to build the tower.

The school district connects now with Port Graham and Nanwalek through satellite service, said Jim White, director of information services for the school district. Providing a microwave relay is expensive, but not as expensive as satellite, White said at the meeting.

“We have no other options in getting service to those communities,” he said.

The tower would be built on a 5.31-acre lot zoned rural residential just uphill from the intersection of East Hill Road and Skyline Drive. Brian Kincaid, an engineer for Kodiak Microwave System, told the commission he had looked at sites south of Anchor Point, including Diamond Ridge and Ohlson Mountain, but the Easy Street site worked best because the signal had the best visibility to Kachemak Bay and lower Cook Inlet communities.

Several people testified against the CUP or raised concerns about it. 

Kevin Dee, executive director of Ageya Wilderness Education, said his program located on land in the area would be impacted by the view of the Easy Street tower. 

Dee said Ageya has a 100-foot wind turbine. When Ageya proposed building it, Dee said he contacted neighbors about his project. He said his tower is visible from the Homer Spit and that the Easy Street tower would be, too.

“This will be a huge eyesore,” he said.

Kincaid said he looked at the Ageya site and determined that someone at the main building there would have to be 30 feet above the building to see the microwave tower.

Another neighbor, Scott Adams, also protested the microwave tower. He noted that the Homer Harbor mast lights are 100 feet tall.

“You can only imagine how tall this tower is going to be,” he said. “The towers that are on this ridge right now will be dwarfed by it,” he added, referring to communications towers already on Skyline Drive.

Adams also said subdivision covenants prohibit uses like microwave towers. 

In response to a question by planning commission Jennifer Sonnenborn about aviation warning lights that could be required by the Federal Aviation Administration, Kincaid said that determination would need to be made by the FAA.

In response to a question by commissioner Larry Slone about radiation dangers, Kincaid said the microwave is a focused beam and doesn’t radiate in the area like cell towers.

In its staff report, City Planner Rick Abboud found that the microwave tower is allowable under city code and does not negatively impact neighbors more than other permitted or conditionally permitted uses. It also does not go against the land use goals and objectives of the Homer Comprehensive Plan, the report found. Abboud recommended one provision, that any lighting needed at the base of the tower be downlit to avoid light pollution.

Dee had asked that the planning commission postpone consideration of the CUP to allow him to gather more public input in opposition to it. Abboud said that would set an unusual precedent if the commission delayed acting for that reason.

In its first vote, the commission voted 4-2, with commissioners Roberta Highland and Sonnenborn voting no.

“It’s very difficult,” Sonnenborn said in voting no. “My personal opinion is a 160-foot tower will affect adjoining property values greater than a kennel or single-family dwelling.” 

After the first vote, Sonnenborn moved for reconsideration. Reconsideration passed. She said she could vote for it if reassured that it didn’t affect property values. Abboud said it would affect property values, but no more than other uses.

Planning commissioner Tom Stroozas said he would support the project.

“Let’s help our citizens across the bay,” he said. “This is the 21st century. Let’s accept it and move forward.”

In the second vote, the commission did that, and it passed 6-0.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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