Judge affirms approval of Mount Morrison TV tower

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By Vicky Gits

A judge has dismissed a neighborhood group’s complaint against the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners over its approval of a plan for a horizontal TV tower just below the ridgeline on the east face of Mount Morrison above Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The approved tower will have at least five towers extending at least 30 to 50 feet or more above the ridgeline.

Canyon Area Residents for the Environment, or CARE, contested the decision to allow the tower on grounds that Bear Creek Development Co. hadn’t complied with a higher court’s orders.

But in a one-page decision, District Judge Stephen Munsinger disagreed, stating: “This court finds ee the board has complied with the requirements of holding further public hearings and the board has made express findings as required by the remand. There is competent evidence in the record to support the findings that the board was directed to make.”

The Oct. 7 decision paves the way for Bear Creek Development Co. to replace the existing Channel 59 tower and erect a multi-use platform for a consortium of public TV and radio stations.

“We are pleased that the law is on our side. This is doing what the county wants us to do,” said Kathryn Isenberger of Bear Creek Development Co., which has been battling for five years to get permission to build.

“It won’t take us long to get going once we get the site development and plat approved. It’s not a long lead time,” Isenberger said.

CARE told the Courier it was considering whether to file an appeal. The group submitted the following statement:

“This is a pivotal case that means more than determining the fate of Mount Morrison. If county commissioners can ignore the established land use plans by approving Bear Creek Development’s stated intent to create a whole new forest of towers and large, industrial-type base buildings in the center of thousands of acres of prime open space parks, then 20 years of work by active supporters of Jeffco Open Space will have been in vain.”

Genesee homeowner Galen Knickel took a dim view of the outcome, saying the commissioners have opened the entire mountaintop to future unwanted developments.

“This is more than just an isolated tower case,” Knickel said. “This is a full-blown attempt to bring as many transmitters of various sorts as possible ee This is just a bad precedent. If this approval should stand, it will be very hard to turn down another tower application up there. ee They desecrate what we have and their deeds remain for a long time.”

Attorney Richard Westfall of Hale Friesen of Denver, who argued the case in district court, said he was disappointed with the lack of analysis. “The court doesn’t even address our arguments ee . As a lawyer I’m very disturbed because I expected more.”

The judge’s ruling affirms the April 1 vote in which the three Jefferson County commissioners voted unanimously to rezone the mountaintop property and allow construction of the TV tower. The board originally approved the tower after public hearings in 2002 and 2003.

After construction there will be two towers, the existing 278-foot Channel 20 tower and the new PIC tower, which replaces the Channel 59 tower to the north.

The PIC tower is designed to be built into the mountainside rather than perched on top of it, a configuration that is possible because Mount Morrison is 500 feet taller than Lookout Mountain.

Three broadcasters, Rocky Mountain PBS, Colorado Public Radio and jazz radio station KUVO will move to Mount Morrison. The Channel 6 tower on Lookout Mountain will come down.

Several TV stations are depending on having the tower in operation by February 2009, when conversion to digital signals takes place. The pro-tower participants include Rocky Mountain PBS Channel 18, KUVO-FM, Colorado Public Radio KVOD FM, Channel 59, Channel 14 and Channel 23.

CARE, which has been fighting the tower proposal since 2003, claims the Jeffco commissioners failed to follow orders of the appeals court when they unanimously approved the tower project in April.

The case against the Mount Morrison tower is preceded by the battle over Lookout Mountain, which ended with an act of Congress that said the county approval process wasn’t relevant and essentially overruled both sides.

CARE claims the commissioners failed to follow orders of the appeals court to research alternative sites when it unanimously approved the tower project in April.