Apr. 14—SANTA FE — Residents of the upscale Las Campanas area north of Santa Fe can expect improved cellphone service in the future.
The Santa Fe County Commission voted 4-1 to approve a 70-foot tall Verizon Wireless cell tower on Tuesday, overturning a decision by the Planning Commission not to allow a height variance for the tower. Currently, that area of the county has poor to nonexistent cell service, creating a public safety concern.
The cell tower will be hidden within a bell tower design and also allow other carriers like AT&T to place their antennas in the structure.
Only Commissioner Rudy Garcia voted against allowing the cell tower.
"I just have a hard time with this because, why not go 100 foot? Why 70? Why not 50?" Garcia said. "I understand the whole emergency stuff. And speaking with some of my constituents in my area, it's a little bit hard for me to vote for it"
Garcia represents District 3, which includes La Cienega south of Santa Fe, where another cell tower is proposed. Many residents of his district are opposed to that tower.
However, about 15 Las Campanas residents spoke in favor of the cell tower in their area during the public comment period of Tuesday's meeting. No one spoke against it.
Chip Munday, general manager for Las Campanas Master Association, said cellphones often are the most reliable means of communication during natural disasters, like fires, because the towers typically have their own generators. Power is usually shut off during fires to prevent transformers for blowing up, he said, meaning residents couldn't rely on their landlines for service.
Stan Weiner, a resident of Las Campanas and a retired attorney, said if the commission didn't vote to approve the variance, it could be opening itself up to potential litigation over safety issues.
"If, God forbid, something happened and they couldn't get medical service on a timely basis. I am concerned that this county could be the subject of litigation," he said.
Other residents spoke of instances when they had medical problems, such as a fall, and struggled to get cell service to call emergency responders. One resident said his wife had to go to a neighbor's house to use their landline to call for help when he fell and broke several ribs.
Commissioner Anna Hansen, who represents District 2 where Las Campanas is located, said the cell tower was important for people living in the area.
"I really feel that this is incredibly important for my constituents and for the constituents in that entire area," she said. "And it is for the health and public safety that this is being done."