Bemis asks Portland to modify plan for 180-foot structure atop Gresham Butte

Gresham's mayor is asking the mayor of Portland to withdraw a proposal for a 180-foot tall emergency communications tower on Gresham Butte.

The proposed tower 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.

The location is on the southeast side of Gresham Butte, but the tower there now is obscured by far taller trees. It is estimated that the top third of the replacement tower, or about 60 feet, would be visible above the treeline.

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.

In its proposal, the city of Portland’s Bureau of Technology Services stated that a higher tower is needed to provide better emergency communications to first responders, including police, fire and 9-1-1 dispatchers throughout Multnomah County who provide critical public safety dispatch communications.

A new higher tower could 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.

On May 7, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis sent a letter to Portland Mayor Charles Hales requesting modifications to the proposal in order to avoid "substantial aesthetic blight."

"The location is visible from many areas of the city, including Gresham's Historic Downtown and emerging Civic Neighborhood," Bemis wrote. "Gresham's iconic buttes and natural areas are a source of great pride in the community, and our residents have been very supportive of efforts to protect these treasured landmarks from unsightly development."

Bemis goes on to request that Hales direct the Bureau of Emergency Communications to withdraw its proposal in favor of working with residents and city representatives "to find a solution that both facilitates vital emergency communications and protects our natural vistas. ... Given the chance, I am very confident that we can work collaboratively to find a viable solution."

The mayor weighing in on the issue is good news to Mads Ledet, president of the Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association.

"Everyone wants them (police, fire and other emergency dispatchers) to have good service," he said. "We need to work with Portland to do that, and still protect those things we value about Gresham."

Ledet favors Portland replacing the current tower with more than one tower in multiple locations. He'd rather see three 60-foot towers built than one tower that’s more than four times taller than the current one.

But that would drastically drive up the project's cost, which now — with just the one tower on land already owned by Portland — is estimated at $1 million.

In addition, Ledet is trying to get the project changed from a Type 2 to a Type 3, which would require a public hearing for city planners to determine whether to approve the application. Under the Type 2 process, no such public hearing is required.

A development application for the replacement tower project has yet to be submitted, but a pre-application conference was held in late February.

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