Milmoe: Verizon antennas must be stopped (column)
The mighty Verizon Corporation assault on the Breckenridge Historic District will enter a new phase today when the Planning Commission has scheduled a fourth and probably final hearing on its plan to locate cell antennas in the heart of town.
The nationally recognized historic district is among Breckenridge’s most precious resources. The town enacted its “Policy 50” ordinance in 2016 to provide strong protections for the district, making it very difficult, but not impossible, to locate cell antennas there. The Verizon application will be a test of the town’s commitment to historic preservation because it is the first application to locate cell antennas in the district since the passage of Policy 50. The town’s decision will be a precedent that will set the course for historic preservation and telecommunications facilities in Breckenridge for years to come.
The commission continued the first hearing in January because it had concerns whether Verizon’s application met the four stringent location criteria in Policy 50. The commissioners expressed concerns that the application:
• failed to demonstrate that there were no feasible alternatives to the proposed Post Office building site;
• proposed a site that is within 1,500 feet of an existing antenna, which is forbidden by Policy 50; and
• would lead to more antennas in the district.
Those concerns remain three months later. Verizon has been slow to address them. It asked for a continuance of the scheduled February hearing, to get more time to respond to the commission’s concerns. In granting the continuance, the commission ordered staff to hire an outside expert to review and analyze Verizon’s compliance with the Policy 50 location criteria, especially whether there are feasible locations outside the historic district. The commission subsequently granted Verizon’s untimely request for a continuance to May 1 because one of Verizon’s lawyers wanted to go to San Diego and her backup had an injured knee. No one knows what Verizon may say or do at the May 1 hearing.
Given the importance of the historic district, and the precedent setting nature of the Verizon application, the commission should not stand for a Verizon attempt to railroad the application.
The Verizon application does not demonstrate a significant gap in service exists. Verizon only identifies areas in the center of town where it would like to improve future service. It fails to demonstrate that there are no feasible alternatives to the proposed historic district location.
Verizon did not conduct a comprehensive search for alternate locations outside the historic district. It merely claims the post office location is the “most feasible alternative to improve capacity in the historic downtown area.” The test established by Policy 50 is that the applicant must demonstrate that “no feasible alternative exists.”
The proposed project will lead to more antennas in the historic district. If the commission grants Verizon a permit, it will not be able to deny future applications for antennas at the post office and other sites. The commission must assume there will be more antennas and weigh the impact of multiple antennas on public health (from radiation), aesthetic, and cultural values on the nearby elementary school students, post office workers, visitors, residents, and customers of stores and restaurants.
The commission’s willingness to rigorously enforce the protections in Policy 50 and reject schemes to avoid them is the key to the future of the historic district. The public needs to let the commissioners know that they can count on public support if they deny the Verizon application.
Cornelius Milmoe lives in Breckenridge.
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