Kootenai County Commissioners listen to presentations by county staff at the community development meeting on Thursday, January 11, 2024. Left to right: Bill Brooks, Leslie Duncan, and Bruce Mattare.

Commissioners Deny Conditional Use Permit for Construction of Cell Tower

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COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO – On Thursday, January 11, 2024, the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) deliberated on four agenda items in its community development meeting, where they approved three actions and denied the request of a conditional use permit that would have allowed the construction of a cell tower in the 1700 block of Alder Creek Road.

The applicants seeking the conditional use permit were Verizon Wireless and Inland Cellular, who presented radio frequency reports to the county to demonstrate there are gaps in coverage in the area. Local municipalities cannot deny permits needed to provide telecommunications services to individuals per the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Commissioner Bruce Mattare noted the gaps in coverage were during inclement conditions. “In places where service already exists, even if the signal is not at maximum strength, it is difficult to identify how federal statute applies,” stated Mattare. “It was not established that the gap in service was continuous, but rather under only certain conditions in this particular location.”

Mattare addressed other issues, including the concern surrounding property values and the ability to insure property with heightened risk of fire. Mattare believes the BOCC must take into account how any structure requiring special permitting affects surrounding property values. “The opposition provided survey and professional statement evidence that home values are adversely affected when located near a cell tower,” stated Mattare. He continued by referencing a thousand person survey conducted by the National Institute for Science, Law, and Public Policy, which found 94 percent reported cell towers and antennas would negatively impact interest in a property and the price they would be willing to pay for it. Furthermore, 79 percent reported under no circumstances would they purchase or rent a property within a few blocks of a cell tower.

Commissioner Leslie Duncan felt the evidence offered during the public hearing on December 14, 2023, which addressed the heightened risk of fire, was compelling. “I am very concerned with the fire issues,” stated Duncan. “I really couldn’t find a good reason to support this.” Citing the current coverage levels, she does not believe the area will suffer by denying the conditional use permit.

In summarizing her reasoning for the denial, Duncan stated, “Social – this is not allowed by right, and the people affected have come forward to say they don’t want it. Economic – [it] may or may not affect his gentleman’s property value, and the insurance rates for the area because of an increased fire risk, which we did observe testimony at the public hearing along with pictures that indicated potential increase in fire risk.”

Commissioner Bill Brooks believes most of what he heard was anecdotal, and voted against denying the conditional use permit.

The board was barred from considering health risk or environmental factors as a basis for denial by federal law established in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

In January 2023, the board denied AT&T a conditional use permit to construct a cell tower on Potlatch Hill Road. That decision is being challenged by AT&T, and the case is currently pending.

The entire community development meeting can be reviewed on the BOCC’s YouTube channel.