It took many extra innings, but Verizon Wireless is now poised to score the winning run in its long and controversial effort to install cellular antennas at the Palo Alto Little League field.
The city's Architectural Review Board signaled on Thursday morning its support for Verizon's bid to install a 65-foot light pole on the Middlefield Road field and to include three panel antennas on the pole. The board didn't vote on the project, opting instead to defer its decision until Oct. 16, the day after the city's Historical Resources Board weighs in. Even so, board members generally supported Verizon's latest proposal, the culmination of four years of revisions and negotiations.
The proposal has stoked passions in the surrounding neighborhood, with dozens of residents speaking out against it at Thursday's public hearing. Many argued Verizon's cell antennas would undermine the 62-year-old ballpark's historical status. Other opponents claimed the cell equipment would harm people's health and lower property values, arguments that cell-antenna foes have made against prior proposals by wireless companies.
In its proposal, Verizon stated it would replace an existing 60-foot-tall light pole with one taller and thicker. The current light pole has a 12-inch diameter, while the new one would be between 18 and 24 inches in diameter. Board members indicated that they would be more likely to support a new pole with a width on the lower end of this range.
While city planners have determined that the extra five feet of height would have only a minimal impact, many residents disagreed, with some calling it unsightly. Charlene Liao argued that the pole would be the tallest the city has ever approved and would harm the views from the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
"It would set a dangerous precedent for the city, and as a result, we plead for you to hold it to a very high aesthetic bar," she said.
Sridar Jasti, who lives near the ballpark, said the new fixture would lower his property values.
"A cell tower in the neighborhood with this design is not aesthetically pleasing enough," Jasti said.
A petition submitted with more than 60 signatures proclaimed residents' opposition to the tower at a "historical site in the heart of our residential neighborhood."
Others disagreed and argued that the new equipment is badly needed to improve wireless reception. Resident Joseph Monaghan wrote in an email to the city that it is "an embarrassment that a world-class city like Palo Alto has such terrible wireless service."
Ken Allen, who lives near the ballfield and who serves on the city's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), said most of his neighbors support Verizon's proposal, even as he acknowledged a significant level of opposition.
"We think Verizon has bent over backwards to try to satisfy some of the concerns of the neighbors who are opposed, yet we still have some very vocal opposition," Allen said.
Verizon's plan has undergone several transformations since the company first proposed bringing cell antennas to the south Palo Alto site more than four years ago. The company had initially proposed a tower with antennas and cables concealed in a structure resembling a fake tree.
After city staff and residents panned the fake-tree concept, the company designed two light towers with antennas on one of them. Though that proposal did a better job blending into the ballfield, it was criticized by staff for introducing new lighting problems. The application was ultimately withdrawn.
Earlier this year, Verizon introduced a new proposal to replace two of the four existing light towers with new ones, with three antennas placed on top of each new tower. The proposal was later revised to replace one light pole with a 65-foot pole.
Board members offered some criticisms of the latest proposal Thursday, even as they indicated that they will likely approve it. Board member Alexander Lew called the ballfield "a pretty good location" for the cell equipment, which in addition to the tower includes a 442-square-foot enclosure for storing an emergency power generator. Lew and his colleagues requested more information about the equipment's colors. He also said he would favor a pole with an 18-inch diameter over the larger version. The latter design, he said, "looks pretty awful."
Chair Lee Lippert focused his comments largely on the enclosure and said the board needs to see "more building details, palette of materials and colors" before taking its vote. Board member Robert Gooyer offered mostly positive feedback and said he would support the project in its current iteration.
"I think Verizon has come a long way and has done many of the things the neighborhood requested," Gooyer said.