WAILUKU - The Maui Planning Commission approved a county special use permit Tuesday for Verizon Wireless to install a 35-foot-high pole and cellular antenna - disguised as a palm tree - on agricultural land mauka of the Waiehu Golf Course.
The antenna will give Verizon customers better cellphone reception in the Waihee and Waiehu areas, said Mike Beason, who represented Verizon before the planning panel.
The pole will have 12 panel antennas and outdoor equipment panels within a 20-by-30-foot fenced area on a nearly 6.6-acre property at 38 Keonaona Lane, which is off Malaihi Road in Waiehu.
The antennas will be camouflaged with faux palm branches and painted green and brown to blend in with the surrounding landscape, according to a project description. The facility will have backup power from a 30-kilowatt generator located at the base of the pole on a concrete pad with other equipment cabinets. Plans call for surrounding the fenced area with plants to screen the compound.
The property owner is listed as Richard Balubar, who uses the land for a tropical plant nursery.
Commission members discussed the possibility that neighbors might complain about the visual impact of the pole, particularly when it's installed.
"They may be a little surprised," said commission Chairman Kent Hiranaga.
There was no public testimony opposed to the project during Tuesday's meeting. County planner Danny Dias said neighbors located within 500 feet of the project site were notified of the meeting.
Beason said the property owner, who is permitting the structure through a licensing agreement, did take the project before the area's community association for its review. Verizon was careful not to obstruct neighbors' views of the horizon, he said.
"We did want to keep it fairly low to avoid that (visual) impact," he said.
Commission member Warren Shibuya said he was concerned about radiation from the cellphone antenna and tried to add a permit condition that would allow Verizon to raise the antenna to 50 feet. But his proposal drew no support from fellow commission members.
Hiranaga said raising the pole height would present a problem of public notification because notices about the permit had said the structure would be 35 feet, not 50 feet.
The base of the pole would be set back 62 feet from the property line, Beason said.
And, adding to the height of the pole would increase the setback, said Department of Planning Director Will Spence.
Commissioners unanimously approved two other conditions proposed by Shibuya. One condition encourages Verizon to provide 40 percent of the power required for the cellphone pole project by using alternative energy sources. The other requires Verizon to remove all the antenna structures if the cellphone provider stops using the site.
The project permit remains valid until April 30, 2017, and may be extended by the county planning director. The permit requires construction of the project to be completed by April 30, 2014.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.