New wireless communication towers are popping up in Anchorage, Mat-Su and elsewhere in Alaska as a big new company, Verizon Wireless, moves into the state and other cell phone companies upgrade their networks.
Verizon is set to begin Alaska service sometime in 2013.
The increase in cell towers is leading to conflicts in some areas between residents who don't want tall poles and antennas looming over their yards -- and companies competing to offer ever-more sophisticated cell phone services.
For example, east-side residents joined a battle this week over a proposal to build a 100-foot tower at 2100 E. Northern Lights Boulevard, in the parking lot of a medical building near Northern Lights and Lake Otis Parkway.
The city Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday rejected the tower site after city officials said it didn't fit with the College Village neighborhood just off Northern Lights.
In Turnagain, another controversy has developed over a plan to install a tower at a site off Wisconsin Street between 31st and 32nd avenues.
In the Valley, there's also trouble brewing. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough no longer requires permits to build towers, so residents may not even hear about plans until construction materials start arriving.
Murph O'Brien was out looking for his lost beagle in a neighborhood off Trunk Road near Palmer a week or so ago when he came across a pile of steel. That's how he learned a new communications tower was already under construction.
Doug Lampton lives right next door to the rising tower. "I was very angry because I wasn't told it was being put there," he said. "I don't understand why the borough let them build right in a residential area."
"What irks me is the lack of public process," O'Brien said.
The rules for tower-building companies can vary by local government.
The Mat-Su Borough Assembly repealed the borough's tower regulations last November and failed to adopt new ones that had been proposed.
As a result, companies erecting towers in the Valley don't have to notify nearby residents or go through any type of hearing.
Assemblyman Steve Colligan of Wasilla, who supported dropping the tower rules, said he felt industry views had been under-represented in the development of proposed new regulations, and that's why he opposed them.
In Anchorage, whether new towers undergo a city review and opportunity for residents to comment depends on the location's zoning.
In areas zoned B-3, a catch-all commercial district, towers that meet certain specifications can be built without a city review, except the normal building permit, said Jillanne Inglis, an acting supervisor in the city's Community Development Department.
For proposed towers in Anchorage residential zones, areas zoned for uses such as parks and public buildings, or local neighborhood commercial districts, the city conducts a review, neighbors are notified and people can make written comments, Inglis said.
Information on the total number of new tower requests in Anchorage over the past year isn't readily available, she said. However, her department has had 11 requests during the past year for towers in zones that call for city reviews, she said. Three each were from Verizon and AT&T.
A Verizon spokesman, Scott Charlston, said he couldn't say how many towers Verizon is building in Anchorage or Alaska because the company is in the middle of leasing real estate.
THE NEED FOR NEW TOWERS
Nate Foster, president of Atlas Towers, said the exploding popularity of smart phones and tablets with Internet and video capability means communication companies need poles that rise above the trees.
"In the old days when people only cared about talking (on their phones), voice data could bounce between the trees," said Foster.
Atlas builds towers that are often shared among communication companies, each with its own antenna. Most of its Alaska poles are 140 feet high, the height of a 14-story building.
Antennas can also be placed on top of buildings.
Atlas proposed the Northern Lights-Lake Otis tower that just got turned down. That was an important site, Foster said. "There's no place around that intersection, there's very little property from a zoning perspective where it's possible to put that infrastructure."
Three communication companies, including Verizon Wireless, need that location, Foster said.
But residents of College Village, an established neighborhood just south of the proposed tower site, and the Rogers Park Community Council objected.
Jeanne Ostness, who lives in College Village, said it would have been next to her backyard.
"If I was to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, it'd be right there," she said. "Most of the neighbors -- they don't want to look at it."
City development director Jerry Weaver denied the permit to build the tower there, saying the tower and associated structures are not "aesthetically and visually compatible" with the neighborhood. It was also closer to residences than city law allows.
Atlas Tower appealed to the Planning and Zoning Commission, but the commission agreed with Weaver.
HOW MANY IS ENOUGH?
Jonathon Briggs, who lives next to a proposed 65-foot Verizon tower off Wisconsin Street, has concerns similar to those of College Village residents: he sees it as lowering home values. And he doesn't think it's necessary to add another tower.
City planners just approved the Wisconsin tower. It will share a lot with a utility sub-station. Briggs said he is working on an appeal.
Cathy Gleason, president of the Turnagain Community Council, which serves the area, said the council's board had a lot of questions about it, including whether this particular tower is needed.
"There's no good or easy answer," she said.
Reach Rosemary Shinohara at email@example.com or 257-4340.