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Planning Commission approves Gheen Reservoir wireless permit

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The county’s Planning Commission approved a Major Use Permit for a wireless telecommunications facility at the Fallbrook Public Utility District’s Gheen Reservoir.

A 4-0 Planning Commission vote June 10 with Yolanda Calvo, Ginger Hitzke, and Thomas Hough absent, approved the permit which will allow T-Mobile to continue to operate and maintain an existing wireless communication facility. The permit will allow T-Mobile to remove the existing 35 foot tall false pine tree and install nine panel antennas and six remote radio units on an existing 40 foot tall water tank.

The project the Planning Commission approved will also relocate the existing ground equipment so that the supporting infrastructure can be closer to the water tank, and a six foot tall chain link fence with privacy slats will enclose the equipment.

The parcel in the 2100 block of East Mission Road totals 3.76 acres. It has A70 Limited Agriculture zoning and the SR-1 Semi-Rural Residential land use designation. A Major Use Permit is now required to site a wireless communication facility on land with agricultural zoning but, prior to 2003, a Minor Use Permit could allow wireless facilities and such a permit was issued for the Gheen Reservoir site in October 2001.

Sections 6985 and 6991 of the county’s Zoning Ordinance stipulate that permits for high-visibility wireless facilities in a residential or rural zone have a maximum term of 10 years for facilities valued between $10,000 and $500,000 and 15 years for facilities valued at $500,000 or more.

False trees are included in the county’s definition of high-visibility towers. The permit may be extended in the case of economic hardship or if no smaller or less visible technology to replace the facility is available or feasible.

The 15-year period for any facility approved prior to April 30, 2003, began on that date and thus expired on April 30, 2018. The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project involved a second and taller water tank on the Gheen Reservoir property, and initially that was the proposed location for the new T-Mobile facilities once the second tank was completed. Nearby residents expressed concern about the separation distance, so the wireless facility location was revised to place the antennas and radio units on the existing tank which is further north.

Although the facility will be visible to nearby residents as well as to motorists along East Mission Road, approximately 135 feet south of the antennas and radio units, the facility will be painted to match the color of the existing tank so that it will blend in with existing structures.

The facility will no longer be considered high-visibility, so the new Major Use Permit has no time limit. The nearest residence is approximately 160 feet south of the project and the nearest property line is more than 75 feet away. The fence surrounding the equipment will enclose 225 square feet.

The February 2021 Fallbrook Community Planning Group meeting included a 12-1 vote with one abstention (Stefani Baxter, whose husband is on the FPUD board, recused herself) to recommend approval of the new facility.


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