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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Planning Commission approves Morro Hills wireless facility


Last updated 10/8/2018 at 9:51am

The county's Planning Commission has approved a Major Use Permit for a wireless communications facility in the 5200 block of San Jacinto Circle West.

The 6-0 Planning Commission vote Sept. 14, with Bryan Woods absent, allows AT&T to construct, operate, and maintain a wireless facility camouflaged as a 60 foot tall false broadleaf tree.

The facility will also include 12 panel antennas, a concrete masonry unit wall enclosure 8 feet tall and measuring 90 square feet, an equipment shelter 9 feet 10 inches tall and encompassing 64 square feet, and a 15 kilowatt backup generator which will be located within the wall enclosure.

"The site before you really represents the best alternative AT&T has to complete coverage in the area," said AT&T director of external affairs John Osborne.

In 2009, the Planning Commission granted a Major Use Permit for a T-Mobile wireless facility on a 1.14-acre property in the 5200 block of San Jacinto Circle, but that application was withdrawn and the project abandoned after the community and the property owner could not reach an agreement on the design.

In February 2010, AT&T submitted an application for a wireless facility site co-located with the Rainbow Municipal Water District's Morro Reservoir. In December 2010 Brian Lee, who at the time was the RMWD's engineer, provided a letter authorizing AT&T to pursue the necessary permits.

Because of a potential merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, the first AT&T application was withdrawn in July 2011, but the merger did not take place and a second application was submitted in August 2012.

In September 2012, the Bonsall Community Sponsor Group voted 4-0 to recommend approval of the permit with the condition that the owner maintained the 50 foot tall false broadleaf tree portion of the tower, and in August 2013 the Planning Commission voted 6-0 with one absence to approve a Major Use Permit for the facility on the Morro Reservoir site.

New personnel at RMWD expressed concerns that the facility would structurally damage the Morro Reservoir. If construction does not begin on the facility within two years after a Major Use Permit has been issued, (unless a longer time period is stipulated), the permit expires, which became the situation for AT&T's Morro Reservoir permit.

AT&T sought another site in the area and negotiated with Anthony and Linda Villelli for a lease on the Villelli family's 3.5-acre property. The negotiations produced an agreement to place the facility on the parcel which currently includes a single-family residence, a paved driveway, and residential accessory structures.

The southeast portion of the property has a 41 foot tall conical shaped hilltop, and a utility pole at the top of the hill extends to 71 feet above the base grade elevation of the residence.

The eastern portion of the parcel is adjacent to an open space easement with steep slopes and agricultural use, and the site is surrounded by rolling hills with agriculture and mature vegetation including tall broadleaf, palm, and eucalyptus trees. The wireless facility location is more than 230 feet north of the closest residence.

The property has Rural Residential zoning, which is a non-preferred zone. All properties within two miles have either residential or agricultural zoning including properties to the west within the Oceanside city limits. (The nearest preferred zone, which has C36 General Commercial zoning, is adjacent to State Route 76.) Most of the nearby facilities with which AT&T might have co-located utilize 35 foot tall false trees at lower elevations.

"We need additional cell phone sites," said Lemonwood Drive resident Bill Flesenheimer. "We're limited in our service that we can get."

Camino Corto resident Alan Regotti has lived in his home for 28 years. "My main concern is noise," he said.

Regotti's house does not have air conditioning, so he and his family often have the windows open. "I'm going to hear some sort of noise for sure," he said. "I sure would like to see a better location than right off my bedroom window."

The generator will be within the concrete masonry unit enclosure, and the conditions of the Major Use Permit include a limit of 45 decibels at the property line.

Hill Ranch Drive resident Diane Gill cited the visual impact of the 60 foot tall false tree. "We can't get away from not looking at it," she said.

Gill and her husband moved from Orange County to Morro Hills 11 years ago. "We moved down to a beautiful rural area to get away from all the utility lines," she said.

A community sponsor group motion needs a majority vote of the full board to pass. The initial Bonsall Sponsor Group vote in September 2017 had three votes in favor and one opposed with two absences and one vacant seat, so the motion did not receive the necessary four votes to be an official position.

An October 2017 motion recommending denial received four votes with one member voting against that motion and sponsor group chair Margarette Morgan abstaining and expressing a request for further discussion between AT&T and RMWD about the reservoir site.

The Morro Hills Community Services District is not an advisory group but rather a special district formed to ensure the safety and maintenance of approximately 6.1 miles of roadway and right-of-way within its boundaries.

In April 2018, the Morro Hills CSD board approved an access and right-of-way agreement for AT&T to use two CSD roads which are accessed from Olive Hill Road, which is a county-maintained road.

Planning Commissioner Michael Beck noted that most of the opposition's concerns focused on property values. "Actually having this cell phone coverage would be a useful thing for property values," he said.


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