Disguised Cell Towers Less Intrusive In Reno

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With more people using cell phones, service providers are struggling to keep up with the demand by erecting more cell phone towers.

But towers frequently bring community opposition as an eyesore, spurring companies to find creative ways to disguise them.

A driver cruising up Mount Rose Highway might not notice the cell phone tower designed to look like a tree at the Galena Volunteer fire station.

"The thing is so natural there are birds in it," said Pete Cannizzaro, chief of the volunteer fire department, said of the Mount Rose "tree."

The 5-year-old communications tower, shared by AT&T and Cingular Wireless, also brings the fire department extra income that Cannizzaro said would go toward a specialized truck to extricate accident victims.

Cingular also has equipment that looks like an antique metal light pole on Robb Drive at Interstate 80. At Reed High School in Sparks, a light on the football field was modified to hold communications equipment.

A light pole at the Washoe County School District bus yard on Geiger Grade also houses equipment. The district rent of $6,000 a year for each site is used for computers and furniture at the high school and for an office renovation at the bus yard, said plant facilities administrator Dale Sanderson.

"We're going to have them one way or the other," Sanderson said of the communications towers. "Schools should get the income."

But disguised towers don't necessarily make residents happy.

A proposed 50-foot cell phone tower at Unity Church on Kings Row, which would conceal the communications equipment with decorative panels displaying the church's logo, is facing opposition from neighbors.

"It would stick out like a sore thumb," church neighbor Jenifer Root told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Unity Church board president Scott Johnson defended the tower.

"That is a good-looking tower," Johnson said. "It's going to enhance the look of our church."

Rental income from the tower of about $1,000 a month would also help serve the congregation, Johnson said.

Cingular spokeswoman Lauren Garner said the proposed cell tower had been redesigned to address concerns of residents and planning officials.

Garner said that cell phone technology has improved over the last 15 years so shorter towers now can be used. Materials to conceal the equipment also have improved, she said.

"Not only has the technology changed, but also the stealth materials have evolved, so we have a lot more options," Garner said.

Last week the Reno City Council sent the proposal for the Unity Church tower to the city's planning manager for a decision, a procedure that city officials said is required under a state law approved last year to streamline review of communications towers.

Residents who fought the proposal at Planning Commission meetings in September said the city is wasting time by starting a new series of hearings.

The city is working on details for processing applications for communications towers. The issue is scheduled for Planning Commission comment on Wednesday.

Washoe County also is rewriting its rules regarding communications equipment in response to the state law.