Gresham, Portland spar over proposed tower
140-foot communications tower would tower over treeline on Gresham Butte
Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis is perplexed that Portland is ignoring his city's concern about a 140-foot emergency communications microwave tower on top of Gresham Butte.
Portland says the location is the best option for improving emergency dispatching in the region. Bemis says it's one of Gresham's most treasured open-space vistas.
According to Bemis, despite his overtures, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales directed his staff to resubmit a land-use application for the tower on Friday.
Bemis says the two mayors had lunch on Tuesday, Jan. 28, in an attempt to reach a compromise.
"I left that lunch feeling, for the first time, like Mayor Hales might be starting to understand how important this issue, and that butte, are to our residents," Bemis said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, somehow we're still not there yet."
Bemis says he appealed to Hales to put the brakes on the application, so that the two jurisdictions could negotiate in a neutral environment.
"It's awfully hard on our end to pursue an alternative that has a hope or a chance when Portland is simultaneously gunning full speed ahead on an option our residents will never accept," Bemis said.
According to Bemis, Hales pledged to pursue alternatives over the next 30 days.
"I like Mayor Hales, which is part of what makes this issue so frustrating," Bemis said. "My strong hope is to like him even more 30 days from now, if Portland pivots to a viable solution that works for everybody."
According to Bemis, Portland's initial land-use application for the tower, which would be more than three times taller than a current tower and largely visible above the butte's scenic tree-line, was remanded as incomplete by Gresham planning officials late last summer. Bemis had hoped that, prior to Portland resubmitting its updated application, the two mayors might agree to pursue an alternative.
The tower proposal is opposed by the Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association and many of Gresham's elected officials. Gresham planning staff will now re-evaluate the application for completeness, which will be followed by a 14-day public comment period, and an eventual staff evaluation and decision.
As an adjacent landowner, the city of Gresham is an "interested party" to the land-use application, and will submit its own analysis of why other alternatives to Portland's proposal could both meet the technical and public safety goals of the project, and protect the view of Gresham Butte.
"We have opposed this blight from day one, and we will oppose it until this proposal is dead. Too many generations of Gresham residents worked too hard for too long to protect this icon for us to sit idly by and let Portland capriciously mar our scenic vista," Bemis said.
Eric Chambers, senior manager for the city of Gresham, echoes the mayor's frustration.
The city is an interested party because it owns lots of adjacent land, and we will make the case that it (the tower) doesn't comply with our land-use code, Chamber said. I don't see how a 140-foot tower can be mitigated.
The case will be decided by Gresham's planning department hearings officer, Chamber said, who must make in impartial decision as to whether the proposed tower adheres to the city land-use code, but that may not be the end of the dispute, he said.
The decision is appealable by any interested party to our hearings officer, he said. It is then appealable to the state's Land Use Board of Appeals if everybody has exercised all appeal channels.
Chambers said Gresham has offered Portland a number of different options because, in the Gresham's view, a mega-tower is not absolutely necessary and the city is working with tech experts to prove that point.
The worst part is how the tower will mar the treeline overlooking Gresham, Chamber said, more than three times as high as the existing 40-foot tower on Gresham Butte.
The tree canopy is between 80 and 100 feet and they want to have a duplicated feed in case the T1 line ever went down, he said. There are other ways to do that.
Portland's application was submitted to Gresham planning staff on Thursday, Jan. 30, Chambers said, and staff has 30 days to review the application. Following that, there will be a 14-day public comment period.
I hope it doesn't get to that, Chambers said. I hope at some point they back off. If it gets to that and the public has the ability weigh in, that's when the city would make its case.
The planning hearings officer acts as in a quasi-judicial capacity, Chambers said, and is bound to make a determination based on Gresham's land-use code, which will include whether the tower is absolutely necessary and if visual impacts can be mitigated, which is a big sticking point.
On top of the 140-foot tower will be a giant 10-foot diameter dish, which Chambers finds unacceptable.
It would be visible from so many places in town, he said. That's old Gresham. That's pioneer Gresham.
Gresham Outlook reporter Beverly Corbell contributed to this report.Add a comment