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Cellphone tower ruffles Board of Adjustment

Thursday, August 16, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Sometimes, if you don’t know what to do, you have to ask.

Vincent Huebinger, representing Crown Castle International and Dean Davidov in a request to relocate a single-antenna cellphone tower to another location at 610 1/2 Kenniston Drive on the southeast corner of Airport Road and North Lamar Boulevard, came to the Aug. 13 meeting of the Board of Adjustment to request guidance on where he could put the tower on the property.

Although the land use code specifies that an existing monopole can be replaced with a similar structure within the same tract of property “in any zoning district,” city staff asserted that by altering the location, the tower is not the same because “it may then be viewed from different angles (or) distances.”

Still, the code is the code, and it caused Board Member Eric Goff to ask, “What variance is needed then, if you’re in compliance with the section?”

Although technically no variance is required, Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd informed the board, “There is apparently a history around the interpretation of this section.”

Several of the board members expressed discomfort at interpreting the city code.

When it comes down to granting a variance, however, Board Chair William Burkhardt said that the case doesn’t pass muster. “This is a created hardship,” he said. Board Member Bryan King agreed, saying, “What I’ve understood about this case is it’s a financial hardship … which we don’t consider.”

Other board members had different concerns about the eyesore that moving the tower out from the back of the property and onto the edge of Airport Boulevard would cause. In light of the new Airport Boulevard corridor plan, Board Member Rahm McDaniel noted, “I just got a little heartburn over putting a cellphone tower on Airport Boulevard.”

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne echoed his point of view. “Having a 100-foot-tall pole … kind of defeats the purpose of having that Airport corridor,” she said.

When Huebinger noted that not only were there plans to move the tower into a more visible location but to add another candelabra antenna for a second carrier – T-Mobile already uses this tower and Huebinger said that Verizon had expressed interest in using it as well – the board discussed whether that change was enough to constitute a change of appearance, which is not permitted under code. Code, however, says that “the tower must be similar in appearance and function to the pole, standard, or tower that it replaces, except for the antennae.”

Notwithstanding their discussion, the board members agreed that this case was more a question of code interpretation and less a request for a variance. “I don’t think we should be voting on something we don’t know,” said Board Member Brooke Bailey.

The case was postponed until the Board of Adjustment meeting on Sept. 10 in order to consult city legal.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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