© 2002 Updated: 3/17/02


Jefferson County’s Fickle Antenna Tower Culture

"Why does Jefferson County have to be the pin cushion for all the towers"" asked Planning Commission Chair Lewis Stieghorst on November 7. The simple answer is because Jefferson County has allowed it for 50 years. In 2001, nobody wants towers in their "backyard," even when the structures are 2000 feet higher and miles away.

Claire Levy, the JeffCo attorney who created the rules in the early 1990s, doesn't want towers seven miles away from her Boulder backyard. Did she knowingly write loopholes that would entice broadcasters to cause constant pain that yield no gain for JeffCo taxpayers"

Golden and Mount Vernon Canyon citizens have witnessed the radio frequency industry control Jefferson County for 50 years. Although 150,000 television viewers are in the "shadow" from the relatively low altitude of 7200-feet Lookout Mountain towers, broadcasters have grown accustomed to huge profits and convenient suburban road access. The number of devices expanded from 100 in 1978 to 1000 in 1998. Antenna tower owners kept expanding the non-conforming use because JeffCo didn’t stop them.

Below: just a few of the antenna towers in close proximity to residential areas on Lookout Mountain

After Jefferson County approved the FOX-31 rezoning of residential lots and accepted an offer to operate county antennas on the tower in 1982, mountain residents awakened to extraordinary abuse of power, by the RF industry and their elected "representatives." The Lookout Mountain antenna farms have caused extraordinary pain for no taxpayer gain.

At the 11/7/01 Eldorado tower hearing, Boulder County land use planner Peter Fogg said, "There is no objective evidence that there is a societal, economic or tax-base generation benefit to Jefferson County (for permitting towers)." He also stated that Denver TV stations want to (continue to make huge profits and) stay on Lookout.

Lookout tower owners collectively pay about $40,000 in real estate taxes (equal to ten average area homes) for using 21 residential-zoned parcels, owned by 14 different companies, that generate millions in rental fees from 1000+ transmission devices. Over 1000 of the residential community’s 3,000 family homes are at the same altitude (or higher) as the antennas.

Over the past 13 years, citizens have persuaded County Commissioners to deny six applications for huge towers in the Mountain backdrop. JeffCo taxpayers paid millions for staff time to process applications and litigation filed by Mountain Contours, Lake Cedar Group, Bear Creek Development, and most recently KCNC-TV-Channel 4. But JeffCo won’t reduce future expenses by ending the non-conforming use of residential land.

Canyon Area Residents for the Environment (CARE represents 9,000 citizens) has worked with JeffCo for six years to develop the county’s first inventory of non-conforming use. After a citizen reported many public areas exceeding radiation limits, the county conducted its first EMR survey. CARE helped stop the Denver TV station Supertower proposal for fewer towers and more radiation. CARE was forced to sue JeffCo and FOX-31 for adding DTV on 4.6-acres, less than the 5 acres required for 1982 rezone of residential lots to a Agriculture-Special Use parcel.

JeffCo ignored hundreds of zoning violations until citizen investigated and demanded compliance with the law. Tower regulations were written by Boulder resident Claire Levy who was an Assistant County Attorney for JeffCo for 10 years, from 1989 until the Supertower hearings were in process in the spring of 1999.

Back in the early 1990s, Levy worked on regulations to support amortized removal of the nonconforming towers on residential land. The county wanted to explore cleaning up the tower sites and rezoning the extraordinary view sites for taxpayers to gain from a Flagstaff-quality (Boulder foothills) restaurant and event center. JeffCo planner Kevin Nichols (1983-1997) wrote a memorandum to the county attorney in 1990:

    ""existing tower operators do need new facilities" It seems like amortization (for removal) would work if the period is reasonable given the investment""

Nichols mentioned health concerns in 1990:

    "Due to the proximity of homes and varied topography, many antennae are on the same horizontal plane as homes. While NIER levels are currently below the ANSI standard used by the FCC and County, there are levels at or exceeding the standards used by other jurisdictions such as Multnomah County, Oregon and the State of Massachusetts."

In a 1991 letter responding to a KRMA-Channel 6 request to "strengthen" its tower (to add more devices) adjacent to the historic Boettcher Mansion, Levy wrote:

    "As you are aware, the Board of County Commissioners has directed the County Attorneys Office to develop zoning regulations that would require removal of nonconforming telecommunications towers after a designated grace period.

    As part of this regulation, the Board would also like to prevent nonconforming towers from being strengthened and prevent the size of antennas and height of towers from being increased" Your proposed antenna replacement and tower strengthening would not be allowed under the regulations""

In 1992, JeffCo Commissioners approved a massive increase of radiation requested by Tribune’s KWGN (on 1.2 acres of Ag-zoned land) adjacent to Buffalo Bill’s Grave, the Pahaska Lodge, Lookout Mountain Park and the Lariat Trail—all listed with the National Register of Historic Places. In 1993, County Commissioners adopted the ANSI standard, which was reduced in 1992 to Multnomah County levels mentioned by Nichols in 1990.

In response to a Views inquiry in 1995, attorney Levy and planner Doug Reed (1992-98) claimed they did not know the radiation limit was five times less. The County ignored citizen concerns for levels of radiation recorded by the EPA in 1986 that exceeded 1992 ANSI limits. The County refused to conduct an inventory of RF transmission devices to determine how many of the 1000 were permitted. No antenna owner has ever been fully prosecuted by Jefferson County.

From 1989 until 1993, Levy managed a supertower denial and litigation brought by "Mountain Contours" (for the same land proposed by Lake Cedar Group in 1998). Levy won the case at the Colorado Supreme Court level based on JeffCo Telecommunication Land Use Plan "policies" adopted in 1986.

On September 17, 1997, Levy testified at a tower hearing proposed for Mt. Morrison:

    "" when we rewrote our zoning resolution in 1992, we wrote a provision in that said they could not put on HDTV antennas and call that a legal expansion of a nonconforming use. So they would have to come to us for zoning approval in order to expand those uses."

At a continued hearing on October 28, 1997, Levy testified that the Lookout tower owners could not add HDTV. After resigning from her employed position, JeffCo hired her as a consultant to defend the county against Denver TV stations 4, 6, 7, 9, & 20 attempt to get the FCC to preempt the local land use decision of denial.

CARE attorneys Deb Carney and Scott Albertson witnessed Levy’s remarks during a joint meeting with the FCC in Washington D.C. on December 7, 1999. Levy claimed JeffCo is not preventing digital on Lookout and digital could go up on existing Lookout towers. "Lake Cedar Group’s request is not necessary."

Levy then contradicted her verbal claims in a 5/9/00 letter to the FCC:

    "The land on which Lake Cedar Group seeks to construct its facilities has been zoned for mountain residential and agricultural uses for many decades. Surrounding landowners have a legal right to rely on that zoning" Lake Cedar Group’s decision to purchase that land and construct a tower on it was made with full knowledge of the existing zoning (and) the existing surrounding land uses, and the rezoning criteria" "

One month later, in a 6/7/00 letter to the FCC, Levy suggested that TV stations could add DTV to residential Lookout :

    "" the following are in the application or pre-application stage and are currently under county consideration: an application by Channel 4 for installation of a digital antenna on an existing tower; and an informal pre-application query by Channel 2 to install a digital antenna on an existing tower" Channel 6 applied for and received JeffCo approval to replace a dish on Lookout Mountain to allow the digital signal to be bounced off that dish."

In 2001, Levy utilized her influence by filing extraordinarily detailed briefs opposing the rural Eldorado tower proposed by Pinnacle. Before the JeffCo Planning Commission on September 5, 2001, Levy testified that digital TV can operate from existing residential-zoned Lookout towers.

Denver news media have consistently backed the broadcast industry. The Denver Post published Levy’s propaganda in the form of a letter-to-the-editor on the October 30, 2001 editorial page. Under the headline "Don’t have to move," Levy claimed Denver TV stations don’t need Pinnacle Towers on Eldorado for digital. "They could stay on Lookout Mountain or move to another location."

CARE attorney Deb Carney sent a November 12 letter informing JeffCo Commissioners of Levy’s contradictory testimony and possible unethical representation of the County.

• Many documents and details are available at www.c-a-r-e.org.