Telecommunication tower with red sunset sky and clouds. Radio and satellite pole. Communication technology. Telecommunication industry. Mobile or telecom 4g network. Silhouette rural house and forest.

Dan Hartke was visiting his sister when a neighbor approached him, asking if they knew of the cell tower proposed next door to the sister’s Three Points home. 

This was the first either Hartke or his sister had heard of it, and it was scheduled to be approved the following week.

“I assure you, had my sister gotten any mail saying anything about this, we would have tried to deal with it a lot sooner,” Hartke said. “For the last 10 days, it’s been a massive rat race on my behalf to try and notify people.”

Hartke spent the weekend of April 14 to April 16 on West Scotland Street speaking to residents and handing out information regarding the cell tower. After distributing over 60 letters, he discovered no resident he spoke to was aware of it. 

On April 18, the siblings and other concerned community members attended the Pima County Board of Supervisors for a public hearing on the cell tower, proposed by applicant Vertical Bridge LLC. After many residents came forward with their concerns, Supervisor Sharon Bronson motioned to deny the proposal, following a unanimous vote from council in agreement.

Hartke has worked in Tucson for over 25 years as a real estate broker, and explained how a cell tower in a residential area is likely to devalue the properties near it.

“I can tell you from experience, it does,” Hartke noted. “Every time a potential buyer comes on the street, the first thing they’re going to see is that cell tower. It would affect property values in the whole area, and there are a lot of houses back there.”

The 110-foot cell tower is a project between Vertical Bridge, a private communications infrastructure company, and the phone service T-Mobile. On Jan. 17, Vertical Bridge requested a Type III Conditional Use Permit through the Ivan R. and Margery A. Wolverton Revocable Living Trust.

The Wolvertons had lived in the Three Points neighborhood for years before their home burnt down in early January. Known for “Dead Man” (1995), “Shadowhunter” (1993) and “Tombstone” (1993), the married actors have a long history in western films. The 90-year-old couple agreed to the trust, allowing Vertical Bridge to propose the cell tower on their property. 

Due to a telecommunications federal mandate, Pima County staff has had to balance filling gaps in cellular coverage with the consideration for nearby property owners. In this case, the board of supervisors received little to no public comment on the proposal and questioned the applicant’s action in notifying the neighborhood, as stated in their agenda item report on Feb. 7.

“It is further unclear from the applicant’s submitted materials as to whether they have conducted any public outreach,” the report stated. “In the form of an independent mailing nor formal neighborhood meeting.”

The law firm representing Vertical Bridge explained the third-party supervisor in charge of the company’s application, Gary Cassel, died between the proposal submission and the February hearing.

Proposal applicants are required by county ordinance to notify residents within 1,000 feet of the proposed site. There are 34 people inside the perimeter, and from his outreach, Hartke spoke to two households that knew of it.

Vertical Bridge mailed notices to residents within the 1,000-foot radius for a virtual community meeting on March 31. Only four neighbors attended, with one indicating that mail was not directly delivered to properties, and residents would visit the post office monthly or bimonthly to pick it up.

“It was clear that mailing another notice of community meeting would be ineffective,” the firm wrote in a letter. “Both before and after the community meeting, however, Vertical Bridge representatives have spoken to other community residents directly to provide information and heard out concerns.”

During the April 18 board of supervisors meeting, the public hearing for the tower included many of the residents who spoke directly to council on their opposition. Hartke helped his sister, Sandra Richardson, to the podium. The homeowner stood from her wheelchair and explained how she spends 95% of her time at home, and how the tower would affect her daily life.

“I am disabled and a single woman,” Richardson said. “I’ve invested a great amount in my property. I can’t afford to move. This is my retirement home.”

Vertical Bridge had decreased the height to 65 feet and agreed to camouflage the tower in an attempt to compromise with resident concerns. The April 18 meeting, however, brought up enough opposition that Supervisor Bronson motioned to close the public hearing and denied the tower with a unanimous vote from council.

Vertical Bridge was not available for comment. 

“Since I’ve come on the board, I have seen a pattern of behavior by these companies,” Supervisor Rex Scott said. “They do the absolute bare minimum in terms of public outreach and public contact. We hear that repeatedly, not just with this project, but every other project that has to come before the board.”

As cell tower proposals continue to create opposition among the residents around them, the Pima County Board encourages those in the region to pay attention to notices and act on their concerns. The board is looking at ways to approach the state of Arizona on this recurring issue.

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