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New Cell Tower, Better Phone Service Coming to Oakhurst?

MADERA — The Madera County Planning Commission is set to review a request tomorrow (March 3) from a local company that wants to construct a new, 149-foot-tall “monopole” cell tower in Oakhurst.

In their application to the County, the project proponent says the new tower would dramatically improve cell phone service in Oakhurst and surrounding areas.

“The proposed installation of this new telecommunications facility will improve wireless coverage to the area and will also increase network capacity,” said the staff report submitted to the planning commission.

“This network will provide an extremely valuable service to those who live, travel, and do business in the local area. It will give people the ability to call for emergency services in the event of an accident, the ability to communicate with employees or clients outside of the office, and the ability to communicate with family members when needed.”

Crown Castle is listed as the applicant on the project. The owner of the facility is Fresno-based Wilkins Enterprises.

North Fork resident Tom Burdette represents eastern Madera County’s District 5 on the planning commission, which will meet Tuesday night at 6 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Madera County Government Center. Thomas Hurst chairs the commission.

The proposed new cell tower site in Oakhurst, which is slightly less than an acre, is located on the south side of Vista Heights Lane about 600 feet east of its intersection with Live Oaks Drive — and is accessible via Greenwood Way just east of Road 425A.

“The project will include a 40′ x 30′ AT&T Lease Area with a prefabricated 8’ x 10’ concrete equipment shelter, and a 149′ monopole tower,” states a 81-page staff report planning commissioners received.

The cell tower and related facility would be unmanned — aside from a maintenance technician visiting the site once or twice a month, according to the applicant’s plan.

A handwritten note attached to the staff report from Chukchansi tribal officials states: “If any cultural artifacts are found during the ground disturbance, the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians request that we be contacted immediately.”

The proposed new tower would replace a smaller tower located approximately one-half mile to the north which is “no longer meeting coverage needs,” according to the Wilkins’ application for the new conditional use permit.

The 40’ x 30’ lease area where the project would be constructed is located on the north east corner of the parcel. The proposed new cell site is surrounded by a mix of commercial businesses, multi-family housing and a hotel. A mini-storage facility also is currently in operation on the parcel.

The project engineer has indicated that the proposed location will provide “the necessary coverage and capacity with the ability to hand off the wireless signal to the next telecommunications site, which will enable travelers and community members to have reliable and continuous wireless coverage.”

“Aesthetically, the monopole option for the tower is believed to be less visible and intrusive to the surrounding area than a stealth design due to the mass that would be needed to design a stealth tower,” the staff report also states. “While the antennas may be seen at the top of the tower the rest of the tower is narrow…Painting the tower a color to match the horizon and using 3M film on the antennas that mimics the skyline would help in minimizing visibility of the tower.”

If the five-member planning commission OKs the project next week, the board of supervisors must still review the plan and vote whether to give it final approval.

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