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Residents of Echo Hills are debating whether better broadband is worth the visual impact of communication towers springing up next door. The Department of Regulatory Agencies identifies a ribbon of …
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Residents of Echo Hills are debating whether better broadband is worth the visual impact of communication towers springing up next door.
The Department of Regulatory Agencies identifies a ribbon of 775 homes along the eastern edge of Clear Creek where broadband internet access is difficult, if not impossible. The agency issued a grant to a locally-formed company, Clear Creek Broadband, to bring better internet to the area. The company, focusing on the neighborhoods of Upper Bear Creek, Echo Hills, and Yankee Creek, has proposed setting up three communication towers, ranging from 60 feet, to 125 feet tall, that would allow the company to offer monthly internet service to virtually every home in the area.
“There may be a house or two behind a rock, but yes, we should be able to get everyone,” said Stephan Androde, who spoke to the Clear Creek Board of County Commissioners on behalf of Clear Creek Broadband at the Jan. 5 public hearing about one of the three tower sites.
The towers would be painted in greens and browns, and have been positioned to not sit directly on top of ridge lines, but would extend above the surrounding tree canopies. The visual impact of those towers has become the focal point of the current neighborhood debate.
“it was a balance between how many homes we can cover, and how many homes could see the tower,” Androde said of their location and height.
The three towers, to be built on the residential properties of willing homeowners, all would require a county zoning change to be built. That’s by design, according to Community Development Director Frederick Rollenhagen, who said it offers the commissioners and a community a chance to consider the impacts of a tower location before it is installed.
Especially in the case of Clear Creek Broadband’s first tower location, just off of Sinton Road in Echo Hills, there are some community members who are vocal in their opposition. During a Jan. 11 site visit by the county commissioners, area resident Marcus Weir loudly berated Androde, accusing him of lying about details of the project.
“I definitely felt like I needed to be heard,” Weir said afterwards. “I’ve lived here for 12 years, and our community’s been ripped apart by this.”
Weir said he felt that fiber optics would be a better, and less visually impactful way of bringing better internet to the area, “but towers are just cheaper.”
Androde had been asked about the fiber optic option by the county commission, and said that the use of fixed-site antennas was “the only viable solution for any community of this nature.” He said that the time and cost associated with gaining easement agreements to run multiple fiber optic cables throughout the hilly and rocky service area made it an unrealistic choice, and more disruptive to the environment.
Clear Creek Broadband anticipates around 400 of the homes in the coverage area would eventually sign up for service. The company would offer 50mbps download speed and 20mbps upload speed for $70 a month.
According to Rollenhagen, the county’s planning commission took a look at the three tower requests in December. The group suggested the county approve site 3 (Yankee Creek), but tabled the other two locations to its Jan. 20 meeting.
At the Jan. 5 meeting, the commissioners asked a few questions, based largely on exploring the points of concern brought up by community members near the first and second tower sites. One line of questioning raised by Commissioner George Marlin centered on how the tower applicants’ view-shed analysis map is based on someone on ground level, and not the second story deck of a nearby neighbor. Also of concern to some neighbors is the possibility of future antenna equipment being added to the towers, making them more obtrusive.
Neighbors wondering about the size and shape of the proposed antennas can look at the roof of King Murphy Elementary, where the same model of antenna that would be atop the communication towers is currently installed, though it isn’t painted like the proposed ones would be.
The commissioners also requested more information about potential impacts to property values. Clear Creek Broadband, and the community group East Mount Evans Resources Growth and Environment (EMERGE) both say the addition of broadband would largely benefit area home values and is rapidly becoming a necessity of modern life. While nearby neighbors argued that diminishing the mountain view-shed would clearly hurt the area’s appeal.
Among the neighbors perhaps most affected would be Donald Hoaglin, and his wife. He walked along with the Jan. 11 site visit group, walking just in front of the driveway of what he called “our dream house” to see where the first tower would go. The base of the 60-foot tower will likely be visible from the small patio area he and his wife created in the front yard to enjoy nature.
“Wow, that’s close,” he said.
The county commissioners opted to table the decision on all three tower sites until after the planning commission issues its recommendations on all three sites. The county commission public hearing on all three sites is scheduled for Feb. 2 at 8 a.m.
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