AT&T wants to build a 95-foot fake-tree-style cell tower near Tacoma’s water tanks off South 19th Street

AT&T wants to build a new 95-foot wireless tower on South 21st Street, on the site of the Alaska Street Reservoir.

It’ll be almost nine stories tall and designed to look like a tree.

The company, through its project manager Cascadia PM, has applied to the City of Tacoma for permits to allow the free-standing structure because no other buildings in the area are tall enough to handle the kind of equipment AT&T needs to solve a 2.25-mile coverage gap in its “4G” service area.

The gap is in an area defined by South 19th and South 21st streets to the north and south, and Ash and South M streets to the east and west, according to a land-use application to the city. A new cell tower would need to be close to the center of that area to do the best job. That area also is exclusively residential, so the city doesn’t allow new freestanding cell towers in areas like that unless they are on public property.

The company explored attaching antennas to the reservoir’s water tank, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum or the steeple of Peach Lutheran Church, but none were tall enough to get the equipment 90 feet into the air. Stanley Elementary School was uninterested in having either an antennae or a free-standing structure, leaving the reservoir site at 1701 S. 21st St. as the only option in that area, according to documents.

Cascadia PM staff members made a presentation to the Central Neighborhood Council in May and were met with questions, not objections.

“I think everybody welcomes the better service,” CNC chairman Doug Schafer said Wednesday.

Some neighbors questioned whether the tower would have negative health or environmental impacts, Shafer said, but were re-assured when they learned the American Cancer Society and other experts don’t believe cell towers are a cause for concern.

CNC vice-chairwoman Lois Stark credited the neighborhood group’s reputation with the company’s decision to install a “stealth monopine” tower – a wireless structure designed to look like a tree.

“It’s not normally what they like to do,” said Stark, who met with company representatives before the council’s meeting in May. “They’re more expensive. But they had heard that our group is pretty well organized and aggressive about protecting our neighborhood, so they came in with a proposal to do an upgraded tower.”

It would be the first of its kind in Tacoma, Stark said.

Another “monopole” can be found at 9424 Yakima Ave., but it’s not camouflaged, said city planner Charla Kinlow. Click here to see a view from Google Street View.

The tower would be 30-40 feet taller than the existing tree canopy, according to city documents. Nestled among the fake branches will be 12 panel antennas, one microwave antenna, 24 remote radio heads and four “superconducting quantum interference devices”. The equipment would stop at 90 feet but the fake branches go 5 feet higher. AT&T will install safety lights at the top if the Federal Aviation Administration requires it.

A backup generator will be enclosed on the ground, and the site will be surrounded by a security fence painted green to match the landscaping. The nearest house is 150 feet away.

The tower could be used by other carriers in the future, and AT&T has pledged to remove the tower within a year should it decide to stop using it.

Public comments on the permit request are due Aug. 4. To submit comments, email or mail them to 747 Market St., Room 345, Tacoma, 98402.