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Bert Etling / Daily TidingsA planning department notice is staked in front of the Southern Oregon University Science Building at the corner of Ashland and Roca streets in May. Screening at top right is intended to shield the view of most of a pair of ventalation fans, which also have sound baffles on top. The city approved an application to put a cell antenna on top of the building, a decision that has been appealed by a nearby resident.

SOU cell tower appeal hearing tonight

Hearing of an appeal claiming a proposed new cell phone tower on the roof of a building at Southern Oregon University will created “deadly and serious” consequences due to supposed use of 5G technology and that planners’ approval violated Oregon’s planning goals is set for tonight before the Ashland Planning Commission.

The tower would actually use 4G, not 5G, technology, and required notifications were made to project neighbors and others, city planning staff says in its staff report, while also pointing out that federal regulations prohibit local planners from regulating cell towers “on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency missions.”

The application, submitted by SOU and Verizon Wireless, asks for installation of wireless communication facilities on the roof of the Science Building at 1250 Ashland Street on the university campus. Installation of the tower and screening so it’s not visible to neighbors and passersby would bring overall building height to more than 40 feet, triggering the need for a conditional use permit from the city, which was granted by planning staff on May 16.

Kathy Uhtoff, who lives nearby on Roca Street, filed an appeal on May 25.

According to filings with the city, Verizon says the antenna is needed to improve service capacity so it can handle increased demand in the area.

“If additional (wireless communication facilities) are not build soon to provide more capacity, Verizon Wireless’s existing sites will exhaust their capacity and no longer be able to provide service to customers in the area,” according to the planning staff report.

The new antenna would be screened by an existing screen wall, complemented by new fiberglass reinforced plastic screening that will be added near the new antenna. The new equipment would not be any higher than the existing screening wall, which reaches 48 feet, 3 inches from the ground, the staff report says.

The city says an acoustical engineer found that the new equipment concluded predicted noise levels are “significantly lower” than those allowed by city code and existing ambient noise levels.

Uhtoff, prior to her appeal, raised concerns in written comments on the proposal about Verizon’s extensive use of energy, with only “one to two percent” of it coming from renewable energy. The city’s response says there’s no basis in city code to consider an applicants choice of energy sources, and also notes that SOU is a recognized leader in renewable energy use.

Uhtoff’s appeal cites the statewide planning goal that calls for citizen involvement, and says notification about the proposed SOU cell tower fell sort of that goal. In its response, the city said it met the requirements in city code requiring notification of owners of property within 200 feet of th perimeter of the project site.

The meeting is set to begin at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber at 1175 East Main St. (Update June 26, 4:44 p.m.: It will not be cablecast and webcast on RVTV; an earlier version of this article incorrectly said it would. Regular meetings are shown, but this is a special meeting.)

Also on the agenda is a proposal to extend the boundary of Ashland’s designated wildfire lands to include the entire city and to establish a prohibited flammable plants list. (Read a story about the City Council's recent discussion on this topic here.)

Email Tidings editor Bert Etling at Follow him on Twitter at @betling.

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