Tie vote dooms OSTA cell tower plan

Tierney Rowe, left, of InSite Towers 2, LLC, makes her pitch to build a 130-foot cell tower on Old Spanish Trail Arena property to the Grand County Council earlier this month. To Rowe’s left is OSTA Director Steve Swift. Photo by Doug McMurdo

A tie vote doomed plans to build a 130-foot cell tower on the grounds of Old Spanish Trail Arena when the Grand County Council met earlier this month, based in large part on a perception the proposed Option and Ground Lease Agreement between the county and InSite Towers Development 2, LLC did not offer enough revenue to the county, as well as “pushback” from nearby residents opposed to the plan.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan after months of negotiations recommended the council deny the request.

Vice Chair Terry Morse and Member Mary McGann both voiced concerns regarding the rent InSite Towers would pay – roughly $1,250 a month plus $400 for up to four customers that use the tower. Morse said it was “out of kilter.” He said towers such as what the company proposed “make a lot of money. I thought the percentage would be much better for the county.”

Morse also said council members received “a lot of pushback from people who don’t want a 130-foot-tall cell tower” in the neighborhood. There were a number of concerns raised in letters sent to the county, with some worried that any future access from Spanish Valley Drive to Highway 191 would be blocked by the tower. Issues such as lighting and how or if the tower would impact the county’s dark skies ordinance was another concern. Morse said he had nothing against the company, and conceded that improved communications would be welcome, but he suggested a better location could be found.

Sloan said the tower would have to comply with the county’s dark skies rules and she cautioned that the county could not use the land anywhere within the 130-foot “fall zone” for the duration of the 40-year term of the lease – which was another point of contention for some council members.

Sloan also said it “doesn’t make sense to tie up a very valuable county property,” for that length of time.

OSTA Director Steve Swift said in backup materials that he first met with InSite Towers in February 2018 to negotiate a deal with the potential of bringing in more revenue. But after a year of “extensive” negotiations with the Grand County District Attorney – including the last eight months since Sloan took office – Sloan advised him to recommend the county reject the agreement due to the two sides’ failure to agree on the three issues raised.

Member Jaylyn Hawks said the 40-year lease was “a really long time,” but InSite Towers representative Tierney Rowe said the “boilerplate” term for such leases is typically 55 years, reasoning the company would have to pay a higher rental rate under a short-term lease. She also said it is difficult to find customers if the underlying lease on a tower is not for the long term, so they’re “going into it with eyes wide open.”

Regarding payments, she said the county would receive “almost half” of the lease revenue. Rowe also said she didn’t “understand the concern over space,” saying the design portion of the project would specify county design standards, such as light shrouding, to remain in compliance with the county’s dark skies regulations.

She added, however, that it’s up to the FAA to determine whether the tower needs to be lighted. The company, she said, would also allow EMS equipment on the tower at no charge, but that wasn’t a valuable bargaining chip. It was noted that EMS and law enforcement communications “need help” in the north area of the county, along the river corridor, so the offer at the arena “wouldn’t help communications.”

Chair Evan Clapper, Morse and McGann voted in opposition, which resulted in a tie vote and a rejection of the lease. Member Curtis Wells was not in attendance.