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March Planning Commission Recap: AT&T proposing ‘Small Cell’ towers to boost coverage; Adeline Springs update

5 mins read

Cellular antennas were the focus for much of the Planning Commission’s March meeting as both Sprint and AT&T look to install new equipment in Emeryville. In addition, we got an update on the Adeline Springs development.

The meeting was conducted with only four commissioners present as Commissioners Kang & Barrera had excused absences and Commissioner Philip Banta announced his retirement. A replacement for Banta’s seat will be appointed in June.

Director’s Report:

  • At their March 6th meeting the City Council approved the second reading of an ordinance to put a $50M obligation bond measure on the June 2018 ballot, which would go towards affordable housing.
  • The City Council also discussed and outlined their ten goals for the coming year, with the top priorities being the South Bayfront Bridge, the aforementioned affordable housing bond, and active transportation and safety.
  • At their March 20th meeting the City Council approved the selection of four finalist for a public art project at the Emeryville Marina.

Public Hearing: Adeline Springs

The Commission heard updates on the Adeline Springs development that is proposed at 3637 Adeline Street. In summary, the proposal is to demolish an existing 5,866 square foot building (“U.S. Spring”) and construct a new, five story building that will accommodate 29 rental residential units and 4 to 6 live/work units on a 12,528-square foot parcel. The parcel sits on the southwest corner of Adeline Street and West MacArthur Boulevard. To the east, across Adeline Street, are retail and restaurant facilities including Lanesplitter Pizza.

At the third study session which was covered in January’s report, The Commission generally liked the design changes including the proposal for the building outer skin. Suggestions included keeping the green wall along the western property line, adding a bike fix-it station for the residents and adding an area for package pick-up.

With the current height proposal, the developers would need to receive 100 bonus points to achieve approval. 50 of those bonus points will come from five affordable units they will be included in development, including one very low income unit, two low income units, and two moderate income units.

The other 50 bonus points were to come from “community benefits” with most Commissioners expressing preference that they be achieved by undergrounding the overhead utilities along Adeline Street. Estimates for that work came back at over $1 million making this financially unattainable. In lieu of undergrounding, the developer has proposed widening the sidewalk on West MacArthur Blvd., and some improvements to the sidewalk on Adeline. Any leftover money would go to the City’s Small Business fund.

The Commission was understanding of the issues with the undergrounding, but most voiced concern that the proposed allotment of funds would not be enough to cover all the proposed work. As Commissioner Keller commented:

“I just want to make sure that we don’t get something half-finished, that we either fund all of MacArthur and just call it a day… I don’t want to approve a project..without having a clear plan on what that would be.. I am leary of approving too much.”

Commissioner Thomson agreed with Commissioner Keller’s concerns:

“Do you get a high-quality sidewalk at the end of the day, and the idea that things may or may not appear it sort of makes me wonder, are you going to get what you actually think yo’re going to get.”

While concerns were voiced, the idea of upgrading the sidewalks was generally accepted by the commission, and the Conditional Use Permit was unanimously approved.

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 0:08:00.

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Public Hearing: Sprint Antennas on Water Tower

Sprint submitted a proposal to replace existing cell phone antennas and equipment mounted to the water tower at 1255 Powell Street. The water tower hosts multiple antennas for several co-located wireless companies. The antennas and support equipment such as cable and RRH units located on the legs of the water tower are painted to match the structure, and the equipment cabinets are located on the south side of the property, next to the office building on the site, and are screened from view by a fence.

Sprint facilities were originally approved administratively in 2004 and modifications were approved administratively in 2011. the additional equipment is required due to the increases in demand for cellular speed and coverage, which necessitates either an increase in antenna size, or an increase in the number of antennas.The proposal is to replace three existing antennas measuring 54.8” x 13.8” X 4.3” with three new antennas in the same locations that measure 84.9” x 21” x 6.3” and all proposed equipment will be painted to match the existing water tower structure.

Given the tower is currently used by a number of cellular providers, the use was not an issue for the Commission, and issues of frequency and public health were also addressed, but several Commissioners did speak to the fact that space was becoming an issue, as Chair Donaldson pointed out:

“I am not as concerned about the frequency questions as I think that they were answered sufficiently, it’s just the clutter questions that I am concerned about.”

Commissioner Thomson also took issue with the increased size of the units and what to do going forward:

“I think that is something that the commission has sort of asked of other utility providers… How to make this as slim a possible if it’s really truly back grounding, can you enhance the design to background, and getting larger and getting bigger and adding more stuff doesn’t do that…. Is there a way to make it less invasive or alternatively to make it a feature and display it?”

With the concern noted for the future, the Commission approved the proposed Design Review Permit unanimously.

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 1:19:00.

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One of the proposed small cell tower designs would add about 4 1/2 feet to the street lights.

Study Session: AT&T Small Cell Wireless Facility

The other antenna proposal came from AT&T, who proposed a small cell wireless facility on an existing street light pole located in the public right-of-way adjacent to 1411 Powell Street near the southeast corner of Powell and Peladeau Streets. This would be the first of seven new wireless facilities that AT&T is proposing.

The facility includes installation of equipment on the 30-foot light pole including a new 4-foot 5-inch antenna. This facility or “Node” will be connected to existing fiber optic telecommunications lines on the pole and power from ground service delivered below. The purpose of this project is to provide AT&T additional wireless voice and data coverage and capacity to the surrounding area.

The proposed node is part of a larger small cell deployment providing wireless coverage and capacity to areas of Emeryville that are otherwise very difficult or impossible to cover using traditional macro wireless telecommunications facilities. AT&T also offered several options for how to outfit the node, including covering it with a case, or potentially looking into covering the unit with local art.

SINR simulations show expected coverage increases with the addition of seven small cell towers. 

After the presentation and discussion with the applicant, it seemed there were some diverging opinions among the Commissioners. Commissioner Thomson favored having some form of art or distinct color on the nodes, much like the art that displayed on utility boxes across the city:

“We do have this artistic component in the community already, and the idea that this may be another avenue for that outlet should be investigated.”

While Commissioner Thomson did want to see the applicant look into potential art, she also stressed the need to balance this with general public safety and potential issues that could come from having colorful or distracting art on the nodes.

On the other side of the discussion, some Commissioners, including Commissioner Keller, felt the nodes should be as unnoticeable as possible:

“My desire for this is to make it as unobtrusive and disappear as possible, so put a shroud on it, make it the same colors as the light pole.. just keep them up out of the way and out of sight is the best…I love the utility boxes, I understand them. This space is too small to really have anything that’s visually interpretive.”

AT&T will review options and comeback to the Commission for further discussion.

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 1:48:00.

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Christopher Bennett

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.


  1. ATT needs more than a small cell to boost coverage. My own apartment building is a dead zone….

    Build more!

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