LIHUE — A cellphone tower designed as a clock tower is approaching its completion.
Officials with Verizon said Monday the 50-foot cell phone tower being erected to increase reception signal to customers will be finished before summer.
“We expect the project to be complete and in service some time this spring,” said Heidi Flato, a representative with Verizon. “Due to increasing customer demand in Lihue, the downtown location was selected for this wireless facility (cell site).”
Jonathan Ota, Tip Top Cafe manager, said the cafe is leasing the space to Verizon for an undisclosed price.
When Verizon approached Ota with the idea of the tower, he questioned if it was the right choice for the community.
“After we talked to them and they discussed the safety of it and how it’s going to be disguised, we said it would be a good fit for us,” he said. “I think the vision of Lihue town is more of a walking town, so it will be good for the people who walk around.”
Charles Guadiz, a resident neighbor, watched the tower grow from the ground up since construction started four months ago.
“It will probably end up looking like a landmark when it’s completed,” he said. “People can see it from Kukui Grove and one said he could see it from Kilohana. I think it’s good.”
Ota gave credit to the Planning Department and the Historical Society for coming up with the concept of the clock tower.
“There was a lot of different suggestions like a pineapple tower, but the clock tower was the best. We really pushed for that,” he said. “I think the vision of Lihue town is more of a walking town, so it will be good for the people who walk around.”
Because this telecommunication facility was being proposed in the Lihue Town Core Area, Planning Department staff worked with the applicant to develop a design that could mitigate the visual impacts of the telecommunication tower and its associated equipment while contributing positively to the town core’s own visual aesthetic, said Deputy Planning Director Kaaina Hull.
“The ever expanding usage of our cell phones and accompanying data necessitate the expansion of telecommunication services; however, these services and their accompanying facilities should not negatively impact the area’s visual character,” Hull said.
“While providing a functional aesthetic to the town core, the clock tower ensures that Lihue’s visual character is not negatively impacted by what would otherwise be an industrial type facility,” he added.
A public hearing for the clock tower was held at the Planning Commission, and after input from the Kauai Historic Preservation Review Commission, the Planning Commission approved the final design plans.
Verizon has several cell sites providing service on Kauai, Flato said.
“We take a balanced approach to engineering the best possible network, while taking into consideration the local community’s needs,” she said. “Our cell sites vary in design style. Some are stand alone towers, while others may look like pine trees or palm trees. We also install rooftop cell sites where appropriate.”
Neighbors near Tip Top had mixed opinions about the tower.
Sarah Bessett, an employee at the Kauai Humane Society’s Blooming Tails Resale Shop, said the tower “is a little bit of an eyesore.”
“It’s pretty high. It would be nice if it said the right time,” she said. “We were wondering if it’s something that was put back up from the past or restoring something. We were calling it the Tip Top time tower.”
Though she questions the size of the tower, Deann Sakaguchi, Aloha Petroleum area supervisor, believes it will be beneficial.
“It’s there for a very good reason because there’s bad cell service in the Lihue area,” she said.
She also said it could have been designed differently.
“I think a tree would have blended in a little bit better than a clock, but they chose what they did,” she said.
Regulars at Tip Top Cafe didn’t realize it was cell tower, Ota said.
“It’s so well disguised. The community has to like to look at it, and because it’s a clock, it’s going to have some useful purpose,” he said. “It’s something new in Lihue, and it’s going to be a landmark for the community.”
As far as concerns about health and safety, Sakaguchi was assured by officials the signal would not affect neighboring business and residents.
According to the Federal Communications Commision, measurements made near typical cellular installations, especially those with tower-mounted antennas, have shown that ground-level power densities are hundreds to thousands of times less than the FCC’s limits for safe exposure.
When asked about added towers in the future, Flato said Verizon is expanding its wireless network to meet growing demands.
“We closely monitor our network traffic and data trends, as well as population growth, to determine where additional network infrastructure is needed,” she said.