For the week of March 31, 1999  thru April 6, 1999  

Ketchum initiates moratorium on tall antennas and towers

Express Staff Writer

Construction of a 100-foot-high cellular phone tower in Ketchum has been forestalled by a quickly enacted moratorium on the building all such structures.

In an emergency meeting Thursday morning, Ketchum’s city officials voted in a 120-day moratorium on construction of antennas and towers 35 feet or higher.

The city reacted in response to a design application submitted by U.S. Cellular. The large cellular telephone company requested to build a 100-foot-tall relay tower--a measurement that is three times the city’s height limit on buildings in commercial zones--in Ketchum’s industrial district off Warm Springs Road.

Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Majdiak said in an interview that it is unclear whether a relay tower would be considered a "building." She also said that under the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act, municipalities need to have adopted specific criteria under which to deny tower applications.

The 120 days is providing city staff the time needed to draft and pass an ordinance that will set up better guidelines for radio, cellular and other forms of towers.

"It’s in their best interest as well as ours," said Majdiak. "We really had no guidelines to give them."

Majdiak called the city’s existing ordinances "woefully inadequate" for dealing with issues of this nature.

The new ordinance may allow tall towers, Majdiak said, or it may not. It will probably boil down to where they are allowed and how tall they may be, she added.

Ketchum staff will look at other Idaho cities’ tower-related ordinances before drafting the local ordinance.

According to U.S. Cellular regional engineering manager Pat Wikes, Ketchum’s announcement of the moratorium was a "surprise."

"We’re always in a hurry to get (these facilities) built," he said, "but we don’t want to make any enemies either."

Wikes said the tower proposed for Ketchum incorporates one of two designs, both of which are slated for 100 feet in height. It would be either a self-supporting structure with three "legs" or a single pole, he said.

These towers are used to transfer cellular signals to regular telephone lines.

"We try to make (the towers) as small as possible for financial considerations, but they need to get above ground clutter," he said.

Ground clutter consists of buildings, trees and other valley obstructions that can hinder a signal’s travel. Typically the mountains are too high for a signal to clear.

Wikes said the closest relay tower to Ketchum is currently in the city of Sun Valley.

According to Idaho law, city’s may institute an emergency moratorium "if a governing board finds that an imminent peril to the public health, safety or welfare" is evident. The maximum time allowed under the law is 120 days.


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