Foothills residents put up a spirited defense, but after a three-hour-long hearing, Jefferson County Commissioners gave public television stations the OK to build a 135-foot, high-definition TV antenna array on top of Mount Morrison above Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Commissioners Kevin McCasky, Kathy Hartman and Jim Congrove voted to approve the tower construction proposal, which dates back to 2003. The proposal was back before the commissioners after an appeals court said the previous panel of commissioners had made several mistakes in the approval process.
McCasky said he reviewed the entire record an deemed the proposal was not new zoning, since towers were already there, and was in conformance with the related land-use plans. "I believe the subsequent changes benefited the community and the applicant proved there was no acceptable alternative," McCasky said.
"I vote yes in view of the limited nature of the case before us and in the light of the federal legislation we have been dancing around all morning," said Commissioner Kathy Hartman, who was referring to 2006 Congressional action that superseded all local opposition to tower construction on Lookout Mountain.
Congrove said he concurred with McCasky.
The main beneficiaries of the ruling include Rocky Mountain PBS Channel 18 digital TV, KUVO-FM, Colorado Public Radio KVOD FM, Channel 59-TV and DTV, Channel 14-DTV and Channel 23-low power TV. The existing Channel 6 tower on Lookout Mountain will be removed, along with the Channel 59 tower on Mount Morrison.
The commissioners OK'd basically the same proposal approved five years ago by another board of commissioners, but they changed the wording of the permitting resolution slightly to comply with the directions of the appeals court. Instead of "substantially" in compliance, the tower was deemed "generally" in compliance with land-use rules.
"How much more do the county commissioners owe the ghost of Leo Bradley,' said Galen Knickel, a longtime resident of Genesee. Bradley owned the land on which the tower is to be built. "The land should be a buffer zone and not a tower farm that makes money at the expense of everyone else," Knickel said.
But TV stations argued Mount Morrison was the ideal location for setting up high-definition broadcast antennas and there was no good substitute elsewhere.
"We need the height and a new permanent location," Jim Morghese, president of Rocky Mountain PBS, one of the members of Public Interest Communication Group, the consortium backing the tower. Morghese said the alternate location on Squaw Mountain would not reach 30 percent of his audience.
The hearing at the Jefferson County Administration Building attracted an audience of about 30 people, including about a dozen from the affected communities.
The action follows in the wake of federal legislation that came down Dec. 12, 2006, allowing a TV consortium to build a super tower on Lookout Mountain to the north. The same group fighting the Mount Morrison tower also waged a 10-year war against the Lookout Mountain tower.
Originally approved 2-1 in 2004 after a series of public hearings, the Mount Morrison TV tower was put on hold for five years while the citizens' group, CARE, fought a legal battle against it all the way to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
In May 2006, Canyon Area Residents for the Environment won a major victory when the appeals ruled the county-approval process was flawed and that the commissioners made a mistake by allowing significant changes to their proposal after the public testimoney was closed. (See box)
The approved tower will have a more horizontal configuration with an array of dishes suspended on a structure supported by poles. The antenna structure and the building are designed to hug the ridgeline and to blend into the landscape but still will be visible from a distance. Two smaller towers currently stand on the mountain.
"It replaces an unattractive tower with one that is designed to be camouflaged in the landscape. It means there will be other broadcasters and new space for more stations," said Martha Whitmore, an attorney representing Bear Creek Development Co.
Consultant Jay Jacobs-Meyers stated that putting the tower on Squaw Mountain would mean eliminating 116,000 viewers for Channel 18 and 175,000 for Channel 43. Viewers in Longmont and Boulder would not get an adequate signal, he said.
Deb Carney, the attorney for homeowners group, CARE, argued against the plan, saying it did not meet the standards of either the Telecommunications Land Use Plan or the Central Mountains Community Plan.
She opposed the towers on the grounds of visual impact, interference, health effect and general incompatibility with residential areas.
The face area of the antenna array will constitute nearly 9,000 square feet or more than seven times the existing tower exposure, Carney said.
"The Central Mountains Community Plan prohibits a dominant ridgeline silhouette. It should be mostly trees and land forms. There should be no extra commercial or industrial uses," Carney said.
"We already have a travesty on lookout Mountain. Please don't make this happen on the other side," Carney said.
She described the commissioners' decision as evidence that foothills residents are "a dumping ground" for radio waves.
The Appeals Court ruling of May 4, 2006, says the commissioners made mistakes in three areas when they originally granted the tower proposal.
• By permitting the applicants to make substantial changes to their proposal afer public testimony was closed;
• By failing to make an express finding that no existing tower sites were adequate; and
• By failing to properly consider whether the application was in general conformity with the county land use plans.
Substantial changes to the applications included:
70 feet high from top of foundaiton of the legs on downhill side.
120 feet across back; 60 feet across front, 52 feet deep, 65 feet feet high from top of foundation of the legs on downhill side. Top mounted broadcast antennas not to exceed 60 feet above the ridge.
Tower camouflage painted in earth tone colors
Tower painted in camouflage patterns
Height and location of ground mounted antennas 35-feet max, no restriction on going over ridgeline
Can't exceed ridgeline; allowed in no-build areas
Excavation placement, none
Specified locations; rock removed in building construction to be placed west of the ridge, behind dense tree growth; rock removed in tower construction to be disposed of in a gully north of the tower.
Wall articulation, none
Every 36 feet. West elevation to have upper one-half of existing buildking covered with continuation of the roof downward. West elevation articulation by glass brick section and decorative block columns support
(Source: Memo to Board of County Commissioners from Tim Carl, development and transportation director)