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Monopine concerns tower over Afton

Afton City Council reviewed the conditional use permit for the city's monopine, or stealth tower, after receiving complaints from neighbors relating to screening of the site.

This December it will have been four years since Afton's monopine, or stealth tower, was first erected, but there are still several concerns towering over the heads of neighboring residents.

Afton City Council discussed the tower's conditional-use permit during its Aug. 21 meeting.

Afton's monopine, or stealth tower, is one of 14 similar towers scattered across Washington County by the sheriff's office as part of the 800 MHz radio system, which is used for public safety and emergency services communications. The towers went live in March of 2008.

Afton's tower, located in the Afton Hills neighborhood, mirrors the look of a pine tree.

"The goal was to make them blend into the neighborhood as seamlessly as possible," Interim City Administrator Ron Moorse said.

Since the time the monopine was installed, a number of concerns have been expressed by neighbors relating to the maintenance of the property, including mowing the grass and maintenance of the vegetative screening around the emergency generator and air conditioning unit. More recently, concerns have been expressed regarding the loss of vegetative screening of the microwave dish.

"We just want to make sure that site is monitored like we were promised it would be," said Diane Dettmann, who lives near the tower site.

Dean Tilley, radio system manager for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, was in attendance at last Tuesday's meeting and spoke to the neighbors' concerns.

In regards to some of the screening being loss, Tilley said deer have been eating the bushes around the generator and air conditioning unit.

"The deer have been vicious up there," he said. "That is what has caused most of the damage up there. "The bushes seem to be coming back though."

Tilley said mowing and snow removal is the responsibility of the residents who are currently renting the property where the tower is located.

"I feel as neighbors we should not have to be monitoring this," Dettmann said.

Last week staff presented several additional conditions that could be added to the CUP to address some of the neighbors' concerns.

The conditions called for:

• Ensuring the property is maintained at the same level as the adjacent properties, including the timely mowing of grass and removal of dead and damaged trees and branches;

• Providing and maintaining a tough, robust vegetative screen for the generator;

• Timely maintenance of the screening that is a part of the monopole, including the needles and screening of the microwave dish so it would be unrecognizable year round as an antenna or antenna mount.

However, if City Council decided to add additional conditions, the CUP would have to go through another public hearing process since it would result in an amended permit.

City Council Member Bill Palmquist said he was not in favor of amending the CUP.

"Rather than redoing the whole thing after the fact," he said, "it sounds like they know about these issues and they're working on them."

Mayor Pat Snyder said she would be in favor of strong language.

City Council Member Joe Richter said he supported stronger enforcement.

"What I think we need is better enforcement of what we already have," he said. "It's probably our fault for not monitoring and enforcing the CUP as strongly as we should."

Richter suggested the Public Works Committee, of which he and City Council Member Randy Nelson are members, conduct annual inspections of the tower in order to identify if any conditions are not being met.

"I think we just haven't been paying attention to it," he said.

Richter proposed to go out to the site this week to start, but moving forward the inspections would be performed sometime in the spring or summer every year.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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