SAN MARCOS — For the second time in as many years, San Marcos has found itself embroiled in a controversy surrounding wireless communications towers.
In the latest case, the City Council begrudgingly voted 4-1 at its April 12 meeting to deny two residents’ appeals of a permit request by Crown Castle to rehabilitate an existing faux-tree tower in the Questhaven community and operate it for an additional 10 years.
Councilman Chris Orlando voted against the permit.
The proposed conditional use permit would have required Crown Castle to plant seven shielding trees, but the council’s approval increased the number to nine trees.
Additionally, the council ordered that Crown Castle conduct an annual radio frequency analysis and that city staff annually inspect the site to ensure that it is up to code.
The residents appealed the Planning Commission’s approval and argued that Crown Castle didn’t deserve a permit extension due to its neglect of the existing tower and landscaping plan that was meant to shield the tower from residents.
“Crown Castle has not been a good neighbor,” said John Signorino, who lives near the cell tower off of Golden Eagle Trail and was one of the two appellants. “They have been out of compliance with multiple conditions of their permit for three years.”
The council, which expressed frustration with Crown Castle and echoed some of the neighbors concerns, ultimately voted to add additional conditions to the permit aimed at keeping the company in compliance with the conditions of approval.
The cell tower is one of two on the property of Jeff Brandon. The other tower, an AT&T tower that was approved in 2013, sparked an earlier conflict that resulted in the City Council adopting an ordinance regulating the placement of the towers the following year.
This tower, originally owned by T-Mobile, had fallen into disrepair, and the trees that were planted to shield the 30-foot monopole — three Torrey Pines — did not grow as anticipated, leaving an unsightly tower in plain view of the residents.
Crown Castle acquired the cell tower in 2012, and applied with the city for a work order to replace the antennas on the pole, but the city issued a stop work order in 2013 after residents began to complain about the condition of the site.
The city later filed a lawsuit against Crown Castle to force them to bring the site up to code.
Jon Dohm, a representative of Crown Castle, argued in his presentation that the issues with the site were inherited ones and that his company had attempted to be a good neighbor with the city and the Questhaven residents.
“A lot of what has been talked about here was not on our watch,” Dohm said.
Orlando, the lone dissenting vote, said he could not trust that any additional conditions would suffice because of the antagonistic history between the city and Crown Castle.
“There has been plenty of notice…for you to know, for you to resolve it and for you to comply, and none of that happened,” Orlando said.
“I am sitting up here at a loss and frankly a little frustrated at what should give us any level of comfort that the conditions that are in the current application will be given any more weight or significance than were in the prior application.”