Verizon, Breckenridge Republicans at odds over proposed wireless facility | SummitDaily.com

Verizon, Breckenridge Republicans at odds over proposed wireless facility

Verizon Wireless aims to build a cluster of antennas on top of one of the highest buildings in Breckenridge's downtown historic district. At face value, the proposal seems rather mundane, but it's drawing sharp criticism from a band of locals, including members of Summit County GOP.

Verizon filed its application Dec. 10, proposing to install a new wireless communication facility with nine screened antennas atop 305 S. Ridge St., a three-story, flat-roofed building that houses the post office, Breckenridge Market and Liquor, a couple of restaurants and a parking garage.

According to the application, the antennas on the roof would be removed from view by a screen made to look like a piece of the building, and additional equipment would be put inside the parking garage.

The building itself was built in 1976 and stands just over 41 feet tall. The wireless facility would extend about 8 feet over the lower wall running along the edge of the rooftop and almost 7 feet above the existing upper wall, a height Verizon says is necessary to achieve the coverage levels it hopes to reach with the new antennas.

Because the facility would be so much smaller than the rooftop on which it sits, angles would largely hide it from public view and produce only minor effects where small pieces of the screen can be seen, according to Verizon.

In its application, Verizon says the facility is a necessary upgrade to relieve another wireless facility at the Liftside building, also known as the "Snowberry" site, that's running over capacity.

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"The existing Snowberry communications site cannot support the data traffic in the large area it covers and is already frequently overloaded. … When this occurs 4G data speeds slow to unacceptable levels," Verizon states in the application.

Additionally, federal rules hem in Breckenridge's ability to address some potential issues regarding wireless facilities, including what's an acceptable level of radiation or the maximum time frame for approving a project.

In response, the town adopted a lengthy ordinance regarding proposed wireless facilities that runs congruent with federal rules but gives local officials some jurisdiction over such facilities.

Per the ordinance, Breckenridge tries to cluster these facilities to avoid multiple companies from locating them all over town, while also driving them away from the downtown historic district, if possible. So far, it apparently has been.

The town also forbids two wireless facilities from being within 1,500 feet of each other, with some exceptions, such as showing there's no other way to achieve the improved wireless coverage or that having too many would create excessive clutter.

Because Verizon is already attached to the The Village at Breckenridge on Park Avenue, also called the "Snowberry site," the company says it would do little good to locate the new one on top of an old one.

Still, that doesn't improve one local man's opinion of the project.

"I am concerned about the town's policy of co-location because there will be others there (inside the historic district)," said C.J. Milmoe, who lives near the proposed site of the new wireless facility and has numerous problems with the proposal.

Evaluating the application, town staff found benefits in the project but could not identify an alternative location that would improve the wireless capacity in a more feasible manner.

Over the phone Wednesday, town staff said there is currently one wireless facility inside the town's conservation district, which covers the entire historic district but extends a little farther out than the historic district does, but didn't know of any such facilities currently inside the historic district.

Milmoe said he believes that once one lands inside the historic district, the town won't be able to keep others out.

"I can guarantee it," he warned, adding that stopping Verizon's proposed facility here is the town's only chance to keep them out of the historic district going forward.

The Summit County Republican Committee has also weighed in on the issue, adopting a resolution suggesting Verizon failed to show the antennas are a necessary upgrade while expressing concerns over potential impacts on the environment, public health and the character of the historic district.

Committee chair Kim McGahey readily admitted the committee doesn't have any research to back up its claims about potential health impacts, but the close proximity of the proposed facility to Breckenridge Elementary worries him nonetheless, he said.

Verizon filed its application on Dec. 10, and the town sent out mailers to residents living within 300 feet of the proposed facility. The Republican committee is also taking up issue with the notices, claiming they were confined to "a very limited mailing list" and lacked substantive details about the proposal with little time to learn more ahead of the Jan. 30 hearing before the town's planning commission.

"We care about the quality of life here, and we're very concerned about big government telling us what to do all the time," McGahey said, "even at the local level, especially at the local level."

During the Jan. 30 hearing, the planning commission voted 4-3 to defer action until their Feb. 20 meeting.

Commissioners Mike Giller, Steve Gerard, Dan Schroder and Christie Mathews-Leidal favored the delay, and the Republican committee has applauded their decision.

Responding to a question about Verizon's efforts to improve service, McGahey remained skeptical but said that if Verizon can show the new facility will improve coverage, he hopes they'll find a different place to put it.

"If the planning commission does approve this, then that opens the door and sets the precedent for more unsightly and disturbing antennas," he said. "I think it's a precedent we do not need to set right now."

In a statement, Verizon said it's "always working to identify locations for cell sites based on where our customers need wireless coverage and capacity" while explaining that demand for data has doubled since 2015 and is expected to grow seven-fold through 2019.

"Our goal is to always be a good neighbor, wherever we build a cell site," the statement reads. "Verizon provided zoning drawings and photo simulations of the proposed site to commissioners, which demonstrated how the site would blend in with its existing architectural surroundings."

Additionally, the company says it works to ensure all applicable federal, state and local regulations are followed and looks forward to working with the planning commission and community "to find a solution that will meet the evolving needs of the community."