August Planning Commission Recap: Avalon & Art.com Building Signage, Mobilitie Cellular Facilities

Published On August 31, 2017 | By Christopher Bennett | Development, News & Commentary

The August 24th Planning Commission saw three public hearings on the agenda; two dealing with sign permits and the other involving potential wireless telecom installations to help increase the signal strength for cellular users. Prior to the hearing, newly elected Commissioner Douglas Miguel Guerrero was officially sworn in by City Administrator Sheri Hartz. Guerrero will serve his three-year term which expires in June of 2020.


Public Hearing – Mobilitie Cellular Facilities

The meeting started off with the Commission considering two conditional use permit and design review applications for wireless telecommunications facilities that would be installed on two existing City street light poles in the public right of way.

One of them would be located on the south side of Powell Street adjacent to 5795 Christie Avenue near the southwest corner of Powell Street and Christie Avenue, and the other on the north side of 64th Street adjacent to 6425 Christie Avenue near the northeast corner of 64th and Lacoste Streets.

The applicant, Mobilitie, LLC is a public utility firm who was hired by Sprint to help build out their wireless network in the Emeryville area. Given the proliferation of smart phones and wireless data use, telecom providers like Sprint are looking to upgrade their systems to help ensure signal strength and bandwidth.

The project would include installation of equipment on the 26-foot light poles, including a new 3- foot antenna covered in a shroud that will be mounted on top of the pole. In addition, the it would include a new underground vault and new power source. According to Mobilitie, the benefit of these new facilities is they are much smaller and more energy efficient than the traditional telecom antennas that are placed on buildings.

The new equipment would not only increase signal strength but could also be a long-term money stream for the City. In recent years the City Council has expressed interest in obtaining revenue from wireless telecommunications operators that place their equipment on City facilities. Currently, the application fee for an encroachment permit is $190, not including inspection fees, and the on-going fee for a long-term encroachment permit is $118 per month after the initial 30 days. Thus, each facility would require payment of $1,416 per year under the current Master Fee Schedule, and any increase in this fee in the future.

While there was general acknowledgement of the need for celluar coverage, there was push back from both the Commission and the public. Fred Blakely, a Resident of Avenue 64, the complex near the planned facility on the corner of 64th street and Christie Avenue, voiced his concerns with the potential health impacts and obstruction associated with the installment:

I am concerned that those microwaves coming out… plus the thing is going to be taller… I’d rather have them move it to the other street, they could put it on 65th street for example, and it wouldn’t bother anybody. I just think it’s a poor choice of a light pole

The Commission agreed that possible alternatives should be reviewed given public concerns. In addition there was concern from the Commission about the design of these new installments. Specifically, Commissioner Keller and others vocalized their concern with the aesthetics of the design, especially if other service providers would be looking to install additional facilities across the City:

First of all I understand we all use these smartphones and we all need connectability, we all get upset when we don’t have connectability… but I find [the equipment] more visually disruptive and unappealing then a sign. I don’t like the height of the antenna or the equipment on the pole.”

Commissioner Barrera shared Commissioner Keller’s concerns:

One of the finding we have to make is the project is of high design quality, and I have an issue with the equipment that is lower on the pole… I think the equipment is pretty unsightly and if we are going to get several more of these in the City I don’t think that I can make the finding that it is of high design quality.”

After review and discussion, the Commission agreed to move the topic for further consideration at a subsequent Planning meeting, giving the applicant a chance to consider alternative locations as well as design changes.

View the Entire Staff Report →
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 4:15


Public Hearing – Avalon Public Market Signs

The Commission reconsidered a major sign permit for the Avalon residential project currently under construction at 6301 Shellmound Street. As covered in a previous meeting recap, the residential building is on “Parcel D” of the Public Marketplace development, which had its PUD approved way back in 2008. Parcel D was approved in 2015 for residential development with an estimated finish date of 2018. In June, the Commission continued the discussion and requested the applicant decrease the dimensions of the blade sign for future consideration. The Commission raised no concerns with the two proposed canopy signs, or with any of the sign materials or colors.

                                          

The applicant revised the proposed blade sign by reducing the vertical measurement to 32 feet and narrowing the sign to 4 feet 2 inches in width, which results in a total square footage of 133 square feet, which is about 42% smaller in area than the previously proposed sign. The majority of the Commission approved of the new size as being proportionate to the building, however Commissioner Donaldson still felt the blade sign was unnecessary for a residential building:

I still have a problem with the finding that it’s necessary for this type of building. I still have a problem with a large blade sign on a residential building. If it were a commercial shopping building with businesses in it, I think it’s an attractive sign for that.”

The Commission approved the sign permit 5-1 (Chair Donaldson voting no and Commissioner Kang absent).

View the Entire Staff Report →
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 1:02:00.


Public Hearing – Art.com Signs

Finally, the Commission considered a major sign permit to modify the existing “Art.com” high-rise identification signs at 2100 Powell Street by removing the multi-color LED “light pucks” from the existing channel letters and adding white acrylic letter faces to be internally illuminated with new white LED modules.

The signs have a tumultuous history, and it was clear in the Commission’s discussion about replacing them. It started in 2011 when the Commission reviewed and approved the original signs. Due to the specialized LED light “pucks” used to illuminate the signs, the signs could be programmed to create color movement, fading, and animation.

In 2012, after the signs were installed, City staff began receiving complaints from citizens, especially in residential units like Pacific Park Plaza, about the brightness of the north facing  sign during nighttime hours. Given the issues, the Commission voted unanimously in October of 2012 to adopt an order to initiate an action to revoke or modify the sign permit. However, Art.com and the Pacific Park Plaza residents were able to work out a compromise relating to the dimming of the lights and use of the different color animations.

However, over the last few years there have been consistent operational issues with the sign, so Art.com  is now proposing to replace the existing multi-color LED “pucks” with standard white LED technology commonly used in illuminated signs. The updated design would include more efficient LED lights and would be standard white lights with no ability to change color or perform other animation effects. These new lights in connection with the automated dimming system would help decrease operational issues will also minimizing disturbance to residents.

original Sign

There was some concern from the general public about the new sign. Paul Gerhart, a residents of Pacific Park Plaza, explained the past issues they have had with the sign, and his concerns with the new sign:

“There is about a third of the 500 condominium units that are directly affected by the north Art.com sign…the concern [with the updated sign] is the dimming at nighttime…because for the past five years it has been dimmed automatically by a computer and that has failed quit often and Pacific Plaza and ART.com agreed on a certain level of dimming it at night, so who is going to be responsible for the level of dimming.”

The Commission, along with the applicant’s technical staff agreed to work and ensure the lighting was appropriate and to take survey public comment after the upgrade was complete. Without much debate the Commission approved the upgrade unanimously, with Commissioner Kang not present to vote.

View the Entire Staff Report →
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 1:12:00


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About The Author

was born and raised in the north bay and now lives on the Emeryville/Oakland border in the Longfellow neighborhood with his wife and two cats (Sherlock and Watson). When he's not writing, Chris works as an attorney who assist engineers and professional consultants navigate their contracts and related business issues.

One Response to August Planning Commission Recap: Avalon & Art.com Building Signage, Mobilitie Cellular Facilities

  1. Michelle says:

    An encroachment permit for a cell phone tower at $118/month seems like a giveaway to me. City should be charging more for use of the light posts.

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