NE Olympia neighborhood blocks cell tower, opens dialogue with AT&T

ahobbs@theolympian.comDecember 17, 2013 

When word spread that AT&T planned to install an 80-foot cell phone tower at Roosevelt Elementary School, Olympia’s northeast neighborhood spoke up.

The Northeast Neighborhood Association maintains an email list of nearly 400 residents who live between 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. A few residents had seen a legal notice that a cell tower was in the works for the school on San Francisco Avenue and prodded people into action.

The neighborhood’s response prompted AT&T to stop pursuing the tower last month. And on Dec. 9, the company sent representatives to an Olympia Coalition of Neighborhood Associations meeting to open dialogue about the cell tower siting process.

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

In a letter to the neighborhood association, an AT&T representative said the company will continue to hunt for suitable locations for new cell towers in Thurston County to meet demand for service.

Almost 40 percent of all U.S. households now use only wireless phone service — a 2.4 percent increase in the past six months, according to Marianne Bichsel, spokeswoman 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.

Mike Dexel, president of the neighborhood association, praised the email list for sparking a discussion about 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.”

Dexel said he recently received a text message from AT&T that said the company had enhanced wireless service in the neighborhood after all.

“Apparently, they were able to find something,” Dexel said.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com @andyhobbs

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