The Clear Creek Board of County Commissioners has unanimously approved rezoning portions of three parcels in the Echo Hills and Yankee Creek areas to allow for telecommunications towers. These will provide broadband internet to 775 homes along the eastern edge of Clear Creek where access is difficult, if not impossible.
County staff confirmed Feb. 2 that Clear Creek Broadband will still need to apply for and receive building permits before the three towers can be installed.
The structures will range in height, from 60 to 125 feet tall, and will be painted green and brown to blend with the surrounding trees, according to applicant Clear Creek Broadband. They will also be positioned not to sit directly on top of ridgelines, but to extend above the surrounding tree canopies.
The board's approval on Feb. 2 was conditional. If the applicant wishes to increase the height of the towers, it will have to return to the board for another public hearing. Federal law allows companies to increase height up to 10% without additional rezoning.
The three towers, to be built on willing homeowners' properties, are a much cheaper and more realistic option than putting in fiber optic cables in the rocky terrain, Clear Creek Broadband representative Stephan Androde said. They're also more readily available than geosynchronous satellite networks.
He and some residents submitting public comment said that while satellites might be an option eventually, they likely won't be ready for years. And, even if they're available later this year, broadband will just be another option for residents, Androde commented.
“At the end of the day, if people have a choice, that's usually a good thing,” he continued. “That gives them a competitive advantage as a consumer … in terms of price, speed and service.”
Clear Creek Broadband anticipates about 400 homes in the coverage area will eventually sign up for service. The company will offer 50mbps download speed and 20mbps upload speed for $70 a month.
Weighing the pros and cons
While impacts to local viewsheds have been an ongoing consideration, Androde pointed out that the respective heights are necessary to reach as many homes as possible while still having structures that will support the equipment's weight against the wind.
“Given time, it'll be fairly innocuous,” he said of their visual impact.
Residents who were in favor said that there are plenty of other utility poles, lines and towers running through East Clear Creek already and that these towers are merely another utility.
“Poles are a reality of the world we live in today,” Echo Hills resident Michael Raber said. “ … It's the lifeblood of communication.”
Many who made public comment during the virtual meeting remarked that they had to do so from work or another location because their speeds at home were too low to stream it.
Having high-speed internet is a necessity to work, teach and learn at home, they described. It's also critical for emergency communication — as most with cell phones use Wi-Fi calling at their residences — and homes without internet don't sell as quickly.
Andrew Campanelli, an out-of-state attorney, spoke against the project, saying that companies wanting to put in 5G transmitters will probably offer Clear Creek Broadband money for the towers' heights to be increased. He said this scenario has an 80% likelihood, and increasing their heights would further impact views and property values.
Androde said Clear Creek Broadband has no interest in having towers higher than the heights that were approved Feb. 2.
A few residents also voiced their opposition, saying the towers were incompatible with the area's recreational feel.
The commissioners commented that, while they heard the opposition's opinions clearly, they felt the application was in keeping with the county's master plan and that the project was compatible with the residential neighborhoods given that internet is a needed utility.
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