Wes Solomonson stands in front of his rural Saanich home near the site of a proposed cell-phone tower, which he says should move to a different location. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich resident sends distress signal over cell-phone tower

Wes Solomonson says proposed cell-tower will undermine value of his rural Saanich home

A Saanich resident believes the district could have done more to aid his fight against a proposed telecommunication tower near his home.

Wes Solomonson said Saanich could have sent a signal against the proposed tower, measuring nearly 30 metres in height, if council had voted to reject the application by Freedom Mobile / Cypress Land Services, to build the structure on a property bordering his rural home near the Patricia Bay Highway.

The cellphone company plans to build the tower at 5420 Alderly Rd. near trees that stand on Solomonson’s property.

Council approved the application in October 2017 on the basis of a staff recommendation over objections from Solomonson and other residents, who had spoken at the meeting. While Couns. Susan Brice and Colin Plant acknowledged their concerns during deliberations, both said that the final decision rests with the federal government and not Saanich.

“This is not our domain,” said Plant. “We can even say no, and they [the federal government] can still approve it,” he said.

Solomonson does not buy this argument. “I think that is a cop-out,” he said. “They did have a say in the matter. If they had said, ‘relocate it,’ there would have been a great impact.”

Perhaps. While Saanich does not have any approval authority, its rejection might have spurred Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to conduct additional consultations in cooperation with the municipality. This said, the applicant could have also asked for direct approval without changing the plans or revise them before re-submitting them for review and council consideration.

The Saanich News has contacted both the company and the federal government for additional information about the status of the application but has not heard back.

Solomonson, not surprisingly, would like to see the proposed tower move to a different location on the designated property, or a different lot elsewhere. This said, he has not yet contacted the federal government.

Solomonson acknowledged the need for cell-phone towers, but questioned the chosen location.

“My main concern probably is the value to the property,” he said. “We have no intention of selling or putting it on the market. But when the time comes, and if we did, and whether it is medical concerns or otherwise, there still is a perception that there is a problem, and that is going to affect the value of the house and the land.”

Solomonson also questioned language in the Saanich staff report that endorsed the application.

“While the tower would be partially visible from the highway in both directions, it would be set well back from the highway and partly screened by mature trees,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning, in the report.

This bothers Solomonson. “What is material to me is the report from council, using the trees growing on my property … as a justification for putting it so close,” he said.

According to the same staff report, the bylaw permitting cell-phone towers does not hold them “subject to any siting, height, or other regulations contained in the bylaw” because of their public use. In other, the bylaw grants planning authorities considerable leeway.

The report also said that the applicant consulted all properties located “within a radius three times the tower height” as measured from the tower base or the outside perimeter of the supporting structure, whichever is greater — 90 metres in this case.

Freedom Mobile plans to install three panel antennas and two microwave dishes at the top of the tower and two accessory equipment cabinets at the base. The antenna and microwaves would be “flush” mounted on the pole to make them less visible. The pole would be tapered and painted green to blend with the surrounding trees. The company has also promised to improve and maintain the driveway that leads off Alderly Road to Solomonson’s house and the future site of the tower.

Solomonson shares his home with his wife, his son, his daughter and her two children. He acknowledges his home’s remote location relative to other parts of Saanich means his concerns will likely not resonate with the rest of the community. He is also not sure whether appealing to the federal government will make any difference. But the frustrations of the mild-spoken homeowner are nonetheless coming across loud and clear.

“We recognize that microwave towers are a necessity,” he said. “We have accepted that it is going to happen to us, whether we say anything or otherwise. I’m disappointed in the process.”

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