T-Mobile has agreed to an alternate location for a cell tower placed in Fairweather Park, ending a federal lawsuit. Residents had sued the city, saying it was failing to enforce its own land-use ordinances.
Medina residents fighting an 80-foot cell tower permitted for the city’s Fairweather Park and Nature Preserve have won their battle to get the offending tower relocated.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik dismissed a lawsuit brought by T-Mobile and Independent Towers against Medina for revoking the cell tower’s permit. The companies argued that under federal law, cities may not deny permits for the communication infrastructure necessary to fill a gap in coverage.
“The neighbors won. T-Mobile will be moving the tower out of the park,” said David Bricklin, attorney for RespectMedina, a group of neighborhood activists who intervened in the federal suit.
Bricklin said that federal regulations do not give companies “unbridled permission to locate cell towers wherever they want. Cities still may deny applications or put conditions on them.”
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T-Mobile notified the other parties to the lawsuit last year that it had found an alternate location for the new cell tower at Bellevue Christian School, property south of Highway 520 in Clyde Hill that is owned by the Bellevue School District.
The company successfully applied for permits at the new location and agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, said Medina City Attorney Jeff Ganson.
The company had no comment on the case Friday.
T-Mobile retains a contract with the city for a temporary, 45-foot tower in Fairweather Park. That tower was placed in the park in 2013 when the Highway 520 bridge forced its relocation. T-Mobile has the option to terminate the ground lease for the tower at any time, Ganson said.
While the company could attempt to transfer the lease to another cell-service provider, he said such a move would “obviously be controversial in the city.”
And he added that the city would have to approve the transfer.
The case marked the first time Medina residents have sued their own city to get officials to enforce its land-use code. RespectMedina issued a statement Friday praising the outcome and saying the dismissal of the lawsuit ensures the protection of Medina parks for current and future generations.
In 2014, a city hearing examiner denied Independent Towers’ request for a special-use permit and variances to put an 80-foot pole and 1,525-square-foot equipment vault in Fairweather Park. The hearing examiner said the company had failed to show the tower was essential to provide cellphone coverage along Highway 520 and hadn’t shown that the park, adjacent to the Evergreen Point floating bridge, was the least intrusive location it could find.
When Independent Towers and T-Mobile sued Medina, the city and the cellphone companies began negotiations to resolve the dispute. During the negotiations, Independent Towers transferred its interest in the Medina cell tower to T-Mobile.
That’s when neighbors and RespectMedina jumped into the lawsuit, concerned the city would not defend the hearing examiner’s ruling. They argued that the city’s interest in revenue from the cell tower — $32,000 in 2015 — was diametrically opposed to its regulatory responsibilities and the interests of the neighbors.
The federal judge agreed.
“While the City, like any other defendant, is free to settle a suit rather than prolong the litigation, it may not do so in a way that violates its own ordinances and zoning regulations,” wrote Judge Lasnik.
Lasnik signed Thursday’s order dismissing the lawsuit.