Verizon looks to delay hearing for contenious Breckenridge project to May 1 | SummitDaily.com

Verizon looks to delay hearing for contenious Breckenridge project to May 1

This photosimulation shows what a cluster of nine screened wireless antennas could look like from Ridge Street in Breckenridge. Verizon has requested a continuance to push the April 12 public hearing regarding the project back to May 1, which the Breckenridge Planning Commission is expected to approve today.

A broken kneecap and out-of-state deposition will likely delay the Breckenridge Planning Commission's public hearing for a proposed wireless facility inside the downtown historic district until early next month.

The new wireless facility would feature a screened cluster of cellphone antennas atop 305 S. Ridge St., a three-story, flat-roofed building that houses the town's post office, Breckenridge Market and Liquor, a couple restaurants and a parking garage.

Verizon filed its application on Dec. 10, saying the antennas would offload pressure from an already stressed-out wireless facility, known as the Snowberry site, on top of The Village on Park Avenue.

Opponents, however, have taken issue with just about every aspect of the project, including the timeframe in which public notices have been issued, potential health affects related to the proposed antennas, the desired location of the facility and its proximity to Breckenridge Elementary School, among other things.

Most basically, many of those critics say the antennas don't belong in the downtown historic district, and they cite a provision in the town code that aims to drive these kinds of facilities into other areas of town, when possible, as the best means for keeping them out.

In January, commissioners agreed to a delay after a number of locals raised concerns about the mailing list and their opportunity to review Verizon's application ahead of the hearing. The town, however, maintains the commissioners did not move to continue the hearing due to these concerns.

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On Feb. 20, the commission approved another continuance at Verizon's request, as the company sought to answer a number of questions posed by the town, including one about what other sites were considered before Verizon settled on 305 S. Ridge St.

Most recently, the town received a letter dated March 30, Good Friday, from Verizon's attorney Melissa Reagan seeking yet another continuance for the hearing on April 12 to the commission's meeting on May 1.

According to the letter, Reagan has an out-of-state deposition on April 12, and the attorney who would cover the meething in her absence suffered an injury at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.

As a result, the commission is expected to vote on Verizon's request for a continuance today, and the agenda explicitly states this will not be a public hearing, nor will public comments be accepted.

Also, at the request of town staff, Verizon has agreed to extend the deadline for the town to review its application to July 31. The town made the request becauase the federal government sets many of the guidelines for how towns may handle proposed wireless facilities, including setting a 150-day shot clock for how long a town has to rule on an application before it's automatically approved.

For the wireless facility to be approved per town code, Verizon will likely have to show it would address an existing gap in coverage and building at this location is the only way to fill that gap.

A project overview from Verizon claims the facility "will serve an area with a significant gap in coverage/capacity," and without it, "a significant gap of coverage will occur when Snowberry is at capacity."

According to Verizon, coverage describes the wireless service in any given area, or lack thereof, while capacity measures how well that service performs.

One of the most outspoken critics to Verizon's plan has been resident C.J. Milmoe, who claims that addressing a gap in coverage and improving capacity are not one-in-the-same.

Additionally, Verizon has produced a list of two other sites it claims to have vetted inside the designated "search area," which includes properties south of Wellington Road and north of Jefferson Avenue, between Harris and Main streets. Those sites are the Lincoln West Mall at 100 S. Main St. and Bank of the West at 106 N. French St. However, neither had the support of the property owner, according to Verizon.

Verizon also listed a number of sites outside the search area, but all of those were rejected for various reasons, according to the company.

In conclusion, Verizion argues that, based on "an extensive, comprehensive and thorough review of all available sites over the past three years," the proposed location remains the "least intrusive means to fill the identified significant gap in coverage/capacity" based on the town's guidelines.

In response, the town has commissioned an independent third-party to vet Verizon's list of alternative sites.

Not happy with many aspects of the proceedings, Milmoe has also taken up issue with the latest request for a delay, claiming it's untimely, without good cause and unfair. He contends a corporation as big as Verizon should have more than two lawyers who can attend a hearing. Furthermore, Milmoe questions whether the company even needs to have an attorney at the hearing, as Verizon didn't have one at the Jan. 30 meeting and the lawyer who spoke up on Feb. 20 only did so to talk about procedural matters and to request another continuance, he said.

"Third, depositions are private proceedings, scheduled at the convenience of the parties," Milmoe continued. "They do not trump previously scheduled hearings before a public body like the commission."

Over the phone, Milmoe said "it makes sense that Verizon wants three weeks to attack (the town's) expert report," but town staff described continuances regarding planning commission matters as somewhat "routine."

"We think it's going to be May 1," said Mark Truckey, Breckenridge's assistant director of Community Development, responding to a question about if town staff foresee any more delays.

"It seems like all parties will be available," Truckey continued. "By all accounts, it looks like we'll have (the hearing) May 1, but we've already seen this get continued a couple times so I can't guarantee it."