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It was expected to be a bit contentious. It turned out to be just that.

The Tuesday, Nov. 7, Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission meeting saw both the audience being told that the room would be cleared if there was another outburst of applause, and a city employee being verbally assaulted because they were thought to be a city consultant.

The topic: A proposed 50-foot cell tower designed to look like a pine tree installed behind the Sedona United Methodist Church on State Route 179. The commission voted 5-2 in favor of issuing a conditional use permit with dissenting votes from Commissioners Gerhard Mayer and Kathy Kinsella, who was attending her first meeting as a commissioner.

P&Z is the decision-making body for this application, so it does not require City Council review or action. Even so, the commission pointed out several times that the city has very little ability to weigh in regarding cell towers, based on Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Sun State Towers was requesting approval of a CUP to allow for construction of the tower. Verizon would install antennas on the monopine, which would also be available for co-location by one additional carrier. In November 2016, the applicant submitted a CUP application for the proposed monopine.

The city’s contract wireless consultant, CityScape, worked with the applicant to ensure that the application was complete and conducted a review of the materials to determine compliance with applicable city, state and federal regulations.

Under staff recommendations in its report it states, “The proposed wireless communications facility is not anticipated to create a property damage or nuisance. Though surrounded by other residentially-zoned properties, the facility would be located more than 150 feet from the nearest existing house and approximately 43 feet from the nearest residentially zoned property. After construction is complete, no impacts from noise, smoke, odor, dust, vibration or illumination are anticipated. No hazards as a result of explosion, contamination, fire or flood are anticipated as a result of this use. This use is not anticipated to increase traffic in the area.”

Michelle Lamoureux spoke on behalf of Sun State Towers and also did so during a public meeting at the church in early June. She said discussions between the church at 110 Indian Cliffs Road and Verizon have been going on for more than two years — another sticking point for some neighbors who said they only heard about the proposed plan in late spring.

The cell tower will be placed in the rear of the church at a maximum height of 50 feet with a base of 20 feet by 20 feet. Lamoureux said the style and location have been deemed the least obstructive while still meeting the network’s needs. They looked at several locations in the area but this site was deemed the best in terms of voice and data coverage, something that has decreased as cellular usage increases, she said.

As she did in June, Lamoureux said that while some may not feel having improved coverage is important or needed, she pointed out that in areas of poor coverage, contacting emergency service can be more difficult. She then said that nearly 65 percent of households no longer have landline phones, only cellphones.

In fact, she said over the last two years, demand for cellular services as a result of smartphones and other devices has increased by 800 percent. Of those who spoke against the proposal, four were in favor while the other three spoke against with their reasonings being the potential impact to views on residents and visitors, health concerns and decreased property values.

One even said the church should be renamed Church of Telecommunications and What’s Profitable, referring to the current plan and the fact the church has an AT&T antenna stealthed on the side of the building.

The amount the church will be paid to house the tower is confidential. Pastor Fred Mast wanted to set the record straight when it comes to their desire to have the tower.

“I know this has been a great subject of disagreement and consternation,” he said. “The question was asked why a church would consider putting in a cell tower. I assure you, with our budget, this is a drop in the bucket. It’s not about money. We are a community partner. I know the fire department relies upon cellular phone service immensely. It is a safety issue. It is not greed at all from the church’s perspective.”

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