Leaders Debate STRs, Cell Towers and an Open Seat Vacancy
So much for keeping promises regarding having shorter, more business-like WP council meetings that don’t go off-track and deviate into forums that advocate personal views on controversial subjects.
That goal was once again shattered last week during a marathon three-hour plus session that covered a diverse range of topics, highlighted by short-term rental discussions and another lively debate on the construction of a 5G cell tower, which touched on some of the well-known conspiracy theories regarding these facilities.
In addition, the council grappled with its future plans for handling a vacant seat, created by the exit of former Councilman David Ott. The council carded a big zero for reaching a unanimous consent for any of these topics, showcasing the divided nature of the current panel of elected leaders.
As for the latter subject, the city clerk gave the council four options as they could appoint someone, open up the position for applications, send it to a special election or do nothing until the regular election takes place a year from now.
When the topic came up for discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case said that she would like to open the seat up for applications from the community. Councilmember Robert Zuluaga though, mentioned that he believes the council should do what they did last time they had a vacancy. This involved appointing the person who had the next most votes in the last municipal election. If this system was implemented, Don Dezellem would become the next council member.
Zuluaga sought to appoint Dezellem to the open seat, but this effort fell short when it came to a vote. Councilmember Zuluaga and Frank Connors were the only two elected leaders that voted in favor of appointing Dezellem to fill the empty seat on the dais.
Instead, the council voted to start the application process to fill the seat. The city will start advertising this week and then applicants will have 30 days to apply.
Council Extends STR Moratorium Until the End of 2023
And once again, the council could not get through a regular session without debating the short-term rental (STR) topic that has often generated several hours of discussion on a regular basis.
When the council addressed the issue of extending the moratorium on short-term rentals, citizens and residents spoke both for and against this moratorium. Resident Mary Sekowski asked the council to end the moratorium on STRs because it doesn’t actually prevent these businesses from operating.
“The moratorium only presents an illusion of restriction and it is not bound by anything in the municipal code,” Sekowski said. “It will attempt to lawlessly block an owner’s right to choose the method in which to rent their residential rental for over a year with the extension. And that’s just too long.”
Other residents, though, urged council to continue the moratorium, and they mentioned problems that could arise if STRs can continue to operate without regulations. Resident Arnie Sparnins, a big critic of having STR in residential neighborhoods, told the council that he could see issues arising with the current Stage 2 fire ban with the number of out-of-town STR owners and operators. He cited incidents in which STR guests were having outdoor fires and smoking outside.
“While the 403 Fire was burning on our Park County border, the city of Woodland Park was in a Stage 2 fire ban and we have out of town STR owners and investors hosting guests and equipping them with the means to carelessly start a fire,” Sparnins said. “While this (the fire ban) is common knowledge to Woodland Park residents, out-of-town hosts and their guests do not have the sensitivity to the extreme fire risk a Stage 2 fire ban represents.”
Resident Patricia Stinner said she agreed with Sparnins’ concerns and she said that she wanted council to come up with a plan to enforce ‘good neighbor policies.’ “How about guests staying at lodges in my neighborhood who are trespassing onto private property? How are you going to enforce that and what is your penalty going to be?” Stinner asked. “How about guests who are enjoying campfires and bonfires? Which have happened at local STRs and you are all aware of that. No citations, no enforcement. How about STR operators selling alcohol to guests? Yes that has happened and I haven’t heard council talk about that.”
The council decided to extend the moratorium until Dec. 31. Councilman Rusty Neal casted the sole dissenting tally.
Council Halts Approval of New Verizon Cell Tower
Towards the end of the meeting, the city’s planning department introduced the plans to construct a 60- foot cell phone tower near the Woodland Aquatic Center. The plans got immediate backlash from council mainly due to the fact that the tower would be located so close to the city’s high school and an elementary school.
Zuluaga quickly questioned the possible health effects a cell tower will have on children. He said that some municipalities have banned cellular towers close to schools.
“Studies by the European Parliament have concluded that commonly used RFR frequencies (450-6,000 MHZ) are probably carcinogenic for humans and clearly effect male fertility and possible adverse effects on the development of embryos, fetuses, and newborns,” Zuluaga said. “I just want to alert my colleagues that this is just not putting it up and having a clock on top of it, this is a serious placement right in the hub of our children. I’m concerned that we didn’t evaluate this as a planning commission, it wasn’t even a topic that was brought up. If you look at the research across the country and across the world, these towers should not be within 1,500 meters of our kids.”
However, a lawyer for Verizon then read a law written by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) that makes it illegal for a city to deny applications for cell towers due to environmental effects. Woodland Park’s city attorney agreed and read the FCC law to remind council that they could not ban the tower based on environmental reasons. Moreover, the attorney explained that the city did not have a city ordinance related to the construction of towers.
In the end, Zuluaga convinced the council to postpone the issue for two weeks until the next scheduled meeting. He wanted to send information to his colleagues, alerting them of the dangers of these towers.