RSF Association board requests more information on proposed cell tower atop Badger Building

Cell towers concealed in chimneys have been proposed for the Badger Building.
(Holly Manion)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board delayed its decision on a proposed new 5G wireless facility on a village building.

Dish Wireless has requested to install two six-foot antennas concealed inside two faux chimneys atop the Badger Building, located at the corner of La Granada and La Flecha. At the May 11 meeting, the board referred the item to its infrastructure committee to gain a better understanding of the project and other cellular sites in town before making its determination.

Dish is a new wireless provider in San Diego as they have just begun launching 5G networks across the country. Towers have been approved locally in Oceanside, Vista, Encinitas, Solana Beach and in Carmel Valley where a 60-foot-tall faux monopine for Dish was approved by the planning board last year.

The RSF Association board received a lot of public input on the antennas, evenly split 14 in favor and 14 opposed. Director Scott Thurman said he appreciated the feedback as they weigh “what is progress versus what is the maintenance of our historical character”. He believes 5G service is strong in the village and as Dish represents such a small portion of the country’s and Rancho Santa Fe customers, he was prepared to reject the proposal rather than continue it forward.

Director Phil Trubey noted that the board does have veto power over new construction: “This is not something that is really going to help the community and it does look ugly,” he said.

The Art Jury did approve the new towers but as Art Jury secretary Kelly Hillard noted during public comment, it was not a “resounding approval” with a 2-1 vote and two members absent. She was one of the opposing votes.

“The village is the most significant historical land in the Covenant and as we help to revitalize the village we must do so with intention and careful thought,” Hillard said. As the chimneys are a departure from the building’s original design, Hillard suggested that the board defer its decision to get input from a historical consultant. She also questioned the need for the towers.

“Some might be under the impression that these antennas will improve cell service,” Hillard said. “The antennas will only serve wireless customers of Dish network…the building owners are the primary beneficiaries of this proposal at the expense of the Association members.”

The Badger Building houses several businesses including Surf Cleaners, B+W Architects and Style Salon in the Ranch. Cindy Wuthrich, whose husband works in the building, said she wanted to address the health effects of having the antennas so close to workspaces. Per the Telecommunications Act of 1996, state and local governments cannot consider the potential health impacts of radio frequency radiation from cell towers when a wireless company files an application to install one.

Resident Holly Manion, in written public comment, also shared concerns about negative health effects, the impact on property values and the aesthetics of the chimneys.

“Although the Badger Building is not nationally registered as a historic building, it is a central building in Rancho Santa Fe’s historic district,” Manion wrote. ”Similar to the unsightly Santa Fe Irrigation district building, the two proposed faux chimneys are a far cry from matching the original architecture and would look out of place.”