I'd appreciate any advice on a letter I'm about to send to my local
authorities re applying for a building permit for my tower. I'd like to use
your collective experience....
I am applying for a permit for a tower for an amateur radio antenna, and
have been discussing the situation with JS. He suggested that I send you
some background information.
I am an amateur radio operator, with federal license WA6PXX. I am also a
member of the Mercer Island Radio Operators (MIRO). MIRO's amateur radio
operators volunteer their time and equipment to supply communications in any
My intended antenna will be used as part of the MIRO and in pursuit of my
amateur radio hobby. An antenna well suited for my intended use and
location would at a height of 90'. However, I could live with a 65' maximum
height in a compromise situation.
The mast I'm proposing to erect is a 55' crank-up tower, onto which the
antenna would be mounted, reaching a total height of 65'. The installation
will comply with the manufacturer's specifications. Antenna heights
significantly below this would be impaired by hills and other structures.
Unfortunately, the current Mercer Island ordinance limits such antennas to
19.02.010 Single-family. D. Building Height Limit. No
building shall exceed 30 feet in height above the average building elevation
to the top of the structure except that on the downhill side of a sloping
lot the building may extend to a height of 35 feet measured from existing
grade to the top of the exterior wall facade supporting the roof framing,
rafters, trusses, etc.; provided, the roof ridge does not exceed 30 feet in
height above the average building elevation. Antennas, lightning rods,
plumbing stacks, flagpoles, electrical service leads, chimneys and
fireplaces and other similar appurtenances may extend to a maximum of five
feet above the height allowed for the main structure.
I've always had good relations with the City, and wish to find a way to
accomplish my needs with minimum difficulty. I've gotten some advice to
"just do it." However, I feel it's best to be totally open with the City,
and find a way to accommodate its needs and mine. It is also better for to
obtain a permit to avoid any future arguments.
To that end, I've attempted to be as careful as possible to minimize impact:
* The proposed location minimizes any view impact to the
* The choice of a flag pole style tower gives a more pleasing
appearance than a triangular tower structure.
* The tower being proposed is a crank-up. In its minimum
height position the top of the antenna will remain below 35'. I will keep
the antenna below 35' during extensive periods of non-use. Thus, one can
expect that on the average, it will be below 35'.
JS appreciated these points, but was still concerned that the maximum height
would reach beyond 35' while in use.
Federal and State Law on Amateur Radio Antennas
I mentioned to JS that there are federal and Washington state laws on this
topic. He suggested that I bring these to your attention.
The Federal government issued a law in 1985 called PRB-1, requiring
reasonable accommodation of amateur radio antennas (text attached). Our
state enacted in 1994 its own law reinforcing PRB-1:
RCW 35A.21.260. Amateur radio antennas -- Local regulation
to conform with federal law. No city shall enact or enforce an ordinance or
regulation that fails to conform to the limited preemption entitled "Amateur
Radio Preemption, 101 FCC 2nd 952 (1985)" issued by the federal
communications commission. An ordinance or regulation adopted by a code city
with respect to amateur radio antennas shall conform to the limited federal
preemption, that states local regulations that involve placement, screening,
or height of antennas based on health, safety, or aesthetic considerations
must be crafted to reasonably accommodate amateur communications, and to
represent the minimal practicable regulation to accomplish the local
authority's legitimate purpose.
Other municipalities have adjusted their laws accordingly. A common outcome
is to allow antennas of 65'-70' height as a reasonable accommodation. Case
law indicates that height restrictions such as Mercer Island's are not
I believe it is in Mercer Island's best interests to accommodate amateur
radio installations, especially for those involved in MIRO. My equipment,
for example, operates on back up battery power, and hence can be used in
major emergencies. During the east coast power grid failure a couple of
weeks ago, cell phones were useless, and ham radio operators supplied
significant support, as they have in other emergencies. Living on an
island, it's important to be especially well prepared.
I see a couple of possible solutions which effectively balance the issues:
* Interpret the 35' rule to apply to fixed structures rather than
crank-up towers. The visual impact is certainly reduced by the occasional
* Modify the ordinance to explicitly exclude amateur radio towers,
placing either no height limit on them, or one which is more realistic for
amateur radio use, such as 65'-70'. It is reasonable to expect such
installations to comply with the manufacturer's recommendations.
I am anxious to resolve this situation rapidly and inexpensively. We are
currently constructing our new house, and it will be far more economical to
do pour the foundation at the same time as one of the other pours.
See: http://www.mscomputer.com for "Self Supporting Towers", "Wireless Weather
Stations", and lot's more. Call Toll Free, 1-800-333-9041 with any questions
and ask for Sherman, W2FLA.
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