AT&T drops cell tower proposal in Olympia's Northeast Neighborhood

The OlympianDecember 16, 2013 

Roosevelt Elementary School, 1417 San Francisco Ave. NE, was the proposed site for a new telecommunications tower before AT&T decided to stop pursuing the site.

ANDY HOBBS

This Old House and Evening Magazine recently highlighted the middle-class appeal of Olympia's Northeast Neighborhood.

Aside from a diverse housing stock and resident pride, the neighborhood is also a model for communication.

When word spread that AT&T planned to install a telecommunications tower measuring 80 feet tall at Roosevelt Elementary School, the neighborhood spoke up.

The NE Neighborhood Association maintains an email list that's nearly 400 residents strong. A few residents had seen a legal notice that a cell tower was in the works.

Last month, the neighborhood's response prompted AT&T to stop pursuing the tower. On Dec. 9, the company sent representatives to an Olympia Coalition of Neighborhood Associations meeting to open a dialogue about the cell tower siting process.

As far as the Roosevelt Elementary site on San Francisco Avenue, residents initially had no idea the tower was even coming. The neighborhood will now have more influence on the location of new towers in the area.

"It was a victory in the sense that it opened this conversation with the industry," said Peter Guttchen, vice president of the NE Neighborhood Association. "We are now better positioned and better prepared to partner with them."

In a letter to the NE Neighborhood Association, an AT&T representative noted the company will hunt for suitable locations for new cell towers to meet demand for service.

More people are using cellphones instead of landlines for service, and customer demand is growing. In 2013, about 38.2 percent of all U.S. households use only wireless service — a 2.4 percent increase in the past six months, according to Marianne Bichsel, spokesperson for AT&T.

"This has been a steady migration for the past 10 years," said Bichsel, noting that nearly 62 percent of adults ages 25-29 use only wireless service.

Bichsel confirmed that AT&T is looking at several locations in Olympia and Thurston County. She would not confirm the number of potential sites or their locations.

Mike Dexel, who is president of the NE Neighborhood Association, praised the email list for sparking a discussion of the cell tower among residents.

"We really try not to take positions on issues," Dexel said of the association. "We see our role as making sure neighbors are informed."

In an interesting twist on the cell tower issue, Dexel said he recently received a text message from AT&T that the company had enhanced wireless service in the neighborhood after all.

"Apparently, they were able to find something," Dexel said.

The NE Neighborhood's boundaries are 26th Avenue on the north, Yew Avenue on the south, South Bay Road on the east, and East Bay Drive and Berry Street on the west. To learn more, visit www.neneighborhood.org.

ANDY HOBBS: 360-704-6869, ahobbs@theolympian.com

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