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AI rendering of a typical cellphone tower. The proposed AT&T wireless communications facility at Poinsettia Park would have obscured the panel antennas pictured above in a radome cylinder. Courtesy photo
AI rendering of a typical cellphone tower. The proposed AT&T wireless communications facility at Poinsettia Park would have obscured the panel antennas pictured above in a radome cylinder. Courtesy photo
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Carlsbad rejects cell tower at Poinsettia Park after local pushback

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad City Council has opted not to negotiate with AT&T for a proposed cell tower at Poinsettia Park, following pushback from residents in the surrounding area who appealed the project’s previous approval.

AT&T has proposed replacing an existing light pole at the park’s southern parking lot with a wireless communications facility (WCF) on a new, 78-foot-tall pole topped with six-panel antennas within an 8-foot fenced area. The telecommunications company said the tower would fill a significant coverage gap for AT&T customers in this area.

Residents in The Cove and Mariner’s Pointe communities appealed the Carlsbad Planning Commission’s Jan. 17 approval of the project, noting that it is directly adjacent to homes and alleging that the decision was based on faulty information and insufficient study of other potential locations. Over 300 residents signed a petition in opposition. 

After a lengthy discussion on Tuesday night featuring over a dozen public speakers opposing the tower at Poinsettia, the City Council voted unanimously not to negotiate with AT&T for Poinsettia Park, essentially rejecting the application. 

The council also voted 4-1 to reject the appeal, with council members noting that they are limited in what criteria they can consider for approving an appeal. Mayor Keith Blackburn said he did not believe the Planning Commission erred in its judgment and would not uphold the appeal. 

Renderings of a proposed AT&T wireless telecommunications facility at Poinsettia Park. The far left is an existing lightpole, and far right is the final proposed design. Courtesy MD7
Renderings of a proposed AT&T wireless telecommunications facility at Poinsettia Park. The far left is an existing light pole, and far right is the final proposed design. Courtesy MD7

Council members briefly considered sending the item back to the Planning Commission for more “evidentiary research” but ultimately decided just to put the matter to rest. 

“I think both parties need resolution today,” Blackburn said. 

With the appeal now resolved and the Poinsettia Park location denied, City Planner Eric Lardy said AT&T would need to submit a new application for a WCF if they chose to do so. 

Deputy Mayor Priya Bhat-Patel also directed staff to bring back recommendations for updating Policy 64, which governs wireless communications facilities in the city. This was also approved unanimously.  

Resident concerns

Carlsbad residents living near Poinsettia Park argued that the facility would be a visual blight — even with the equipment on the pole tucked within a cylindrical shield — and pushed for AT&T to either move it to a new location or use a small cell option, which provides coverage via smaller pieces of equipment rather than a large macrocell like a tower. 

They also alleged that city staff misinterpreted the city’s Policy 64, which lists preferred and non-preferred areas for WCFs. The policy lists parks and community facilities as preferred locations but residential areas as discouraged locations and urges against visibility in public areas. 

Resident Nora George, who represented the residents in the appeal, said AT&T and their consultant MD7 did not properly inform the Planning Commission about alternative locations, such as the Encina Wastewater Authority site or the fire station near Poinsettia Park.

“The Planning Commission was ill-informed and deliberately misled into believing Poinsetta Park is the only alternative, the only option for a [WCF] in our neighborhood,” George said. 

Tara Carmichael of MD7 told the council they were in discussion with the Encina Wastewater Authority about placing a WCF on their property for about a year but that the site was ultimately determined to be unsuitable because it was just outside the needed coverage area. 

The baseball field at Poinsettia Park. A light post can be seen at the bottom right of the photo. Courtesy photo/City of Carlsbad
The baseball field at Poinsettia Park. Courtesy photo/City of Carlsbad

MD7 said the fire station was also considered, but it would have required the removal of parking spaces, which disqualified the option. 

Residents also noted that if the city says yes to an AT&T tower at Poinsettia, that inhibits their ability to say no to proposals from other carriers for the same site. Frank Sung of Mariner’s Pointe said this has already happened at Calavera Park.

“If you don’t say no to this one, you will end up with a cell farm, tree farm, just like Calavera Hills Park, and we don’t want that,” Sung said.  

City staff confirmed Tuesday that they had received an application from Verizon to also construct a WCF at Poinsettia, pending the outcome of the AT&T discussion. 

Councilmember Teresa Acosta asked AT&T how many small cells they think would be needed to provide the same tower coverage, but representatives said the number can vary. 

“It’s hard, because I think it would really help us make a good decision here if we knew that,” Acosta said.

Councilmember Carolyn Luna said she would like the city to have a more standardized approach to WCFs in the future. 

“It looks like maybe we have a lack of consistency in how we’re implementing our policies, and going forward, I hope we would be more consistent. If we allow it somewhere but don’t allow it somewhere else or don’t want to extend the lease, I think we should be more standardized,” Luna said. 

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