Neighbors of proposed tower site will meet Monday night in hopes of fighting the project

Officials with the city of Portland on Tuesday, Aug. 13, filed a land-use application for a 140-foot emergency communications tower on Gresham Butte.

The inch-thick document details the need for the tower and why Portland officials think Gresham Butte is the ideal location for it, but also lists Rocky Butte in Northeast Portland as a possible alternative.

Portland had until Oct. 1, to file the application, but apparently mixed up two deadlines, causing officials to think the application was due this week.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis last week appealed to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to slow down what Bemis called Hales’ “thundering bureaucracy” to place a public safety and emergency communications microwave transmission tower on the landmark butte, also known as Walters Hill.

It would replace a 40-foot-high emergency communications tower on land owned by the city of Portland in the 1100 block of Southwest Blaine Court in Gresham.

Originally, Portland proposed a 180-foot tower to replace the old, obsolete one as part of Portland’s $50 million emergency response radio replacement project.

The project calls for creating a network of nine towers — spanning Portland’s West Hills, Camas to the north in southwest Washington, Biddle Butte in the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Scott to the south — in order to provide better emergency communications to first responders, including police, fire and 9-1-1 dispatchers throughout Multnomah County and parts of Clackamas County who provide critical public safety dispatch communications.

The towers form a circle with the Gresham Butte tower in the middle.

A new higher tower on the southeast side of Gresham Butte could help fix dead zones in East Multnomah County, particularly near the Sandy River and on the south sides of local buttes that radio waves from the existing 21-year-old tower can’t reach.

It also will provide better overall communications as the public safety system moves to fully digital communications.

The 1.35-acre site that Portland owns on Gresham Butte is one of 15 such locations that make up the Portland Public Safety Radio System. Portland began to lease the site in 1999 but bought it in 2010 from a family that owned it.

But in order for the network to work, nothing can obstruct the radio waves between towers, which is why the towers poke above tree tops.

According to planning documents, 40 feet of the proposed triangular lattice tower will be visible above the trees on Gresham Butte.

Or as the land-use application states, “As set forth above, the tower may present a visual impact to the immediate area and to the general public.”

Bemis objects to any part of the tower being higher than the trees because Gresham Butte, at 840 feet tall, is visible from many parts of the city, including Gresham’s Historic Downtown, Main City Park, Civic Neighborhood and other residential areas.

He is disappointed that Portland didn’t hold off on filing the application until after an independent analysis of alternative sites — such as Powell Butte, Rocky Butte or even sites in Gresham where the visual impact wouldn’t be so drastic. Now those studies will take place while Gresham processes the land-use application.

“We gave Portland every opportunity to let reason prevail on this issue, but they have patently refused,” Bemis said. “That’s OK. Gresham has been protecting its buttes since before Mayor (Gussie) McRobert was around, and we’ll be protecting them when my kids are grown. Our signature vista may not be important to Portland, but we’ll certainly demonstrate to them how important it is to us. Above being the mayors of our respective jurisdictions, Mayor Hales and I are both Oregonians first and foremost, and that should mean that we try to find ways to protect our natural beauty, instead of rushing in to mar it.”

Portland’s land-use application states in error that the paperwork had to be filed with Gresham by Aug. 18, or the whole land-use process had to start again.

Jonathan Harker, Gresham’s planning manager, said that is not true.

Portland has 18 months from its Feb. 27, 2013, pre-application meeting with Gresham to file an application. Portland also has six months from the April 4, 2013, neighborhood meeting it held to file an application. That six-month timeline can restart with another neighborhood meeting within the 18-month timeline.

“It does not require the process to begin again,” said Ron Papsdorff, Gresham’s government relations manager. “There are a number of alternative sites and technology solutions that we believe could meet the emergency communications needs.”

Dana Haynes, a spokesman for Portland’s mayor, said Portland has been working on the application for many months with the intention of filing in mid-August. “It’s been slow and methodical,” Haynes said. “If we’re ready to file ... why not file?”

Any new sites, technology or options that are unveiled as part of the study can still be incorporated into the application.

Now, residents of the Gresham Butte neighborhood are planning to meet on Monday night to discuss the proposed tower and ways to fight it.

Mads Ledet, president of the neighborhood association, already has asked Gresham City Manager Erik Kvarsten to change the land-use process from a Type II to a Type III. This would allow more public comment and let the planning commission, instead of Harker, determine whether to approve the application.

But in a letter drafted the same day that Portland’s land-use application was filed at Gresham City Hall, Harker said the tower is considered a wireless communications facility, which requires a special use review under the Type II process.

However, if Portland wants to have the application processed under the Type III procedure, Portland can choose to do that because it “provides greater notice and opportunity to participate than would otherwise be required.”

Under the Type II process, the city has 30 days to see if the application is complete. Then property owners within 300 feet of the tower property will receive written notice of the application and 14 days to provide written comments on the proposal.

Anyone in the city can submit written comments; however, those comments should be specific to the land-use process, Harker said.

Those comments will be considered as part of the application’s review conducted by Lauren McGuire, Gresham’s acting supervisor for development planning.

She will submit a staff report to Harker, who will then issue a decision on whether to approve or deny the application. Appeals then will go before a hearings officer.

Under a Type III review, written comments would be accepted, but residents also could offer oral comments during a hearing before the planning commission. The commission would then either approve or deny the application. Appeals would be made before the Gresham City Council.

If you go

What: Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association meeting.

When: 7-9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19.

Where: Gresham City Hall, Oregon Trail Room.

Why: Portland has filed a land-use application to build a 140-foot emergency communications tower on Gresham Butte. Approximately 40 feet of the tower would be visible.

Details: Contact Mads Ledet, neighborhood association president, at 503-784-7022 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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