MARTINEZ -- The Contra Costa County Planning Commission disappointed a group of protesting Kensington residents at its evening meeting Sept. 25, voting to approve applications for five of six AT&T cell phone antennas to be placed on PG&E poles around the community.
AT&T says the antennas are needed to improve cell phone reception and provide capacity for exponentially rising amounts of data downloads. They will be located on poles at 121 Windsor Ave., 8 Sunset Drive, 18 Highgate Road, 4 Stratford Road and 110 Ardmore Road.
Antenna dimensions are about 24 inches tall by 10 inches wide by 5 inches deep, according to AT&T.
The commission asked the company to revise its plan to place an antenna on a 47-foot-high single-use pole at 248 Grizzly Peak Blvd., which Commissioner Richard Clark said would create "an ugly eyesore."
Clark suggested AT&T conceal that pole and antenna, and company representatives agreed to come up with a camouflage proposal. The commission will review the new plan in closed session on Oct. 22.
The commission also agreed to allow the antenna and pole at 110 Ardmore Road to rise to 54 feet tall from the 44-foot height recommended by the county Planning Department.
The commissioners' decision on the antennas can be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors, which would have the final say.
In an advisory-only vote in July, the Kensington Municipal Advisory Council endorsed the antennas at 18 Highgate Road and 121 Windsor Ave. while rejecting the other four.
Both the planning commission and the KMAC heard testimony from dozens of residents who raised such issues as the potential for noise generated by fans used to cool electrical devices in the antennas and health concerns over microwave radiation emitted by the installations.
The antennas were approved on the condition that AT&T hire an independent contractor to determine if noise is within the limits set by county regulations within 30 days after the antennas are installed.
Bill Hammett, a consultant hired by AT&T, told planning commissioners that the microwave radiation will be far below federal limits and pointed out that the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act bars local jurisdictions from rejecting antennas over health concerns.
"You don't have to be experts (in health issues) because the federal government has pre-empted you," Hammett said.
Residents also complained that the antennas and support apparatus will block views from homes in hillside neighborhoods and reduce the value of homes that are close to the poles.
The county general plan for residential development in Kensington calls for "reasonable protection" for existing homes regarding views and "bulk, size and height" of new construction and "impacts on privacy and sunlight."
Albritton said the proposed locations are the "the least intrusive" AT&T could find after evaluating more than 50 PG&E poles in the community.
AT&T lowered the number of proposed antennas in Kensington to six after its original plan to install nine antennas was rejected by the KMAC in February.