AT&T's proposal to install cell antennas on utility poles throughout Palo Alto found a mixed reception at a public hearing Thursday morning, with residents and Architecture Review Board members raising fresh concerns about the impacts of the new facilities.
The proposed antennas would be far smaller and less intrusive than the controversial cell-tower AT&T had hoped to mount at St. Albert the Great Church in Crescent Park earlier this year. The company pulled back its plan after intense opposition from a group of neighborhood residents.
At the Thursday hearing, the company pitched its new plan -- a Distributed Antenna System that would locate antennas on existing poles at nine locations within the city. The locations are: Waverley Street and Whitman Court; Waverley and Lowell Avenue; Lincoln Avenue and Emerson Street; Emerson and Kellogg Avenue; Coleridge Avenue and Alma Street; Bryant Street and Seale Avenue; Rinconada Avenue and Alma; North California Avenue and Ramona Street; and Leland Avenue and Ash Street.
AT&T officials said the goal of the new antennas is both to increase the bandwidth capacity in Palo Alto and to eliminate the city's "coverage gap" -- the absence of a wireless signal in some parts of the city. Minh V. Nguyen, the company's area manager for construction and engineering, wrote in the application for the antennas that the company tried to balance the city's technology needs and the community's values in presenting its proposal.
"We strongly believe that the preferred design that we have presented before the ARB is the optimal and least obtrusive and best for the community overall," Nguyen wrote.
The board did not take any votes on the proposal Thursday but members voiced some concerns about the potential visual and noise impacts of the new antennas. After hearing from residents who oppose the new facilities and business executives who support them, the panel gave the proposal a mixed review. Vice Chair Heather Young said the new antennas "are not particularly endearing" aesthetically.
"They do seem to be driven almost entirely by engineering," Young said. "Which is a great start, but in this instance I do not feel it should be a finish."
But other members acknowledged that the antennas, which would come in pairs and point up from the top of utility poles, aren't any worse than other utility infrastructure around town. Board member Alex Lew compared the antennas to devices such as cobra-head lights and electric transformers -- the "normal ugly range," in the words of his colleague, Judith Wasserman.
"To me, the design is within the range of those items," Lew said.
Board Chair Clare Malone Prichard agreed.
"They're not great looking, but if you look at poles without these things on it -- they're also not great looking," Malone Prichard said.
She and other board members expressed some concerns about the noise impacts from the fans AT&T would have to install to keep the equipment cool. They also asked the company to come up with other options that the board can review. The company is expected to return to the board at a later date with more information about noise impacts and design revisions.
"I think now we are in the beginning stage and a lot can happen between the preliminary review and a further proposal," Board member Grace Lee said. "I look forward to seeing the proposal move forward."