Cellular tower heights limited

EVERETT – New regulations that cap the height of future cell towers in Snohomish County and protect some bird habitats were adopted on Wednesday.

The Snohomish County Council voted 5-0 to accept rules that for the first time dictate height restrictions and public involvement when wireless companies file for building permits.

“The public wants to have some input on the establishment of cell towers in their neighborhoods,” Council Chairman Gary Nelson said. “This particular ordinance provides some definite guidelines.”

Future towers will be limited to 180 feet in the county’s unincorporated rural areas and 150 feet in unincorporated urban areas. Antennas can be 10 feet higher than those limits.

Cingular Wireless attorney Richard Busch successfully lobbied to remove a 1,000-foot buffer that would have prevented new towers from being built near bird habitats listed as important by the state.

A 3-2 split vote won by the Republican majority changed that buffer to a less specific “construction zone buffer.”

“It’s unclear to me what a construction buffer zone is,” Democratic Councilman Dave Gossett said, adding that he suspects it’s significantly smaller than 1,000 feet.

The council added a “fall zone” requirement that forces cell towers to be built so that a toppling tower wouldn’t strike existing buildings.

Cell towers already built in the county were either approved by county staff or through conditional use permits. The new rules would require that almost all new towers go through a public review.

New antennas added to existing towers would require only a building permit.

Also, a 20-foot greenbelt of trees and landscaping will be required to screen cell towers and their equipment sheds.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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