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Residents keep a close eye on stealth tower construction

Afton's controversial stealth tower looks set to go up in mid-December -- and neighbors will be scrutinizing every step of the process.

The radio communications tower, which will be disguised as a pine tree and erected in the yard of 15326 Afton Hills Court, was due to go in on Dec. 8, but nearby residents have been warned that date is likely to be delayed.

The tower is one of 14 in a series developed across Washington County by the Sheriff's Office as it introduces an 800 megahertz radio communication system.

In Afton, the subject has met with considerable opposition after it was announced the Sheriff's Office was applying for permission to construct the tower in a residential area.

At the Afton City Council meeting on Nov. 18, Captain Steve Pott, of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, attended to give the latest update on the tower's construction since the city approved a conditional use permit in May.

"I acknowledge the disruption that I know there has been to the neighborhood," said Pott, explaining the installation of the tower had been delayed owing to sickness in his family.

He also responded to comments about a perceived lack of communication between the county and the residents living at properties neighboring the lot where the tower is to be constructed.

"I'm putting out fires every day," said Pott. "[Afton] is one of 14 sites. It's been an incredible workload for me, not that I'm whining...

"When you have 60 hours in the week, you have to pick the 60 hours that have to be done and that's why I haven't gotten the updates out."

A couple of those neighboring residents spoke during the public comment section of the meeting about their dissatisfaction with the project so far.

"Who will decide whether this [tower] meets the definition of stealth as in our ordinance right now?" asked Susan Sando, one of Afton Hills Court's most vocal opponents to the tower.

"We are all taxpayers sitting in this room and I feel it's irresponsible of our city council and the people representing us to put this tower up if it has any chance of not meeting those 15 conditions [established in the conditional use permit]," said Diane Dettmann, another resident of Afton Hills Court who has voiced her opposition to the tower at a number of meetings.

Both residents and their spouses supplied to the city a petition signed by a number of Afton Hills residents, expressing concern at a potential violation of one of the conditions of the CUP by the construction of air conditioning units outside of the garage on the property.

Further concerns about the level of noise generated by the air conditioning units, which will provide six tons of cooling, in conjunction with the noise produced by a generator on site were also raised at the Nov. 18 meeting.

"Even when it's running full load, it runs well under the city's noise ordinance," said Capt. Pott, explaining the county had deliberately chosen a quiet and efficient model.

"We have gone to great lengths to ensure we stay quiet up there, and we will continue to do that."

All construction on the Afton Hills site must be finished by the contractor by Dec. 19. Testing of the complete, 14-tower system will follow and the county expects the system to go live in February.