The flag flies on

By Valerie Shelton, Editor

Patriotism is alive and well in Clovis—that much was clear at a planning commission meeting on Aug. 27 when commissioners were asked to consider the removal of the American flag that flies over Hedrick’s Chevrolet near Shaw and highway 168 in favor of a not-so-aesthetically-pleasing antenna.

For five years now, the flag that rises to 90-feet has waived over Hedrick’s, welcoming drivers along the 168 or those driving east on Shaw to Clovis. In such a short amount of time, the flag has become a landmark in the city—that is why City Associate Planner Orlando Ramirez says that when the issue of taking down the flag came up, staff decided to bring the matter to the public.

To many the flagpole is just that, a flagpole, but it’s also a cell tower. Sprint, which is leasing the space with the telecommunications monopole/flagpole from Hedrick’s Chevrolet, wanted to remove the flag along with the top 20 feet of the existing tower and replace it with a protruding antenna that would expand cell service in the area.

Technically, Ramirez said, Sprint could change the tower with a rezone via administrative permit, which requires only staff to sign off on it. However, since the flag means a great deal to the community it was the staff’s decision to treat the rezone more like a conditional use permit process, placing the matter on the planning commission agenda for a public hearing.

“We felt we had to bring this to the planning commission and the public,” Ramirez said. “People don’t even realize it is a cell tower they view it just as a beautiful flagpole. Years ago the flag was stolen and there was public outcry then. Also, we received calls when the flag came down for regular maintenance. People wanted to know where the flag went and when it would be back up.”

Given the outcry over temporary removals of the flag, Ramirez said he knew community members would be vocal about potentially losing the flag permanently. He was right. Less than 48 hours after Brett Hedrick mentioned the public hearing on social media the city received over 480 e-mails opposing the removal of the flag.

Hedrick said he was amazed at the community support shown by those writing e-mail and those who came to the meeting.

“It’s a big beautiful entrance to our city,” Hedrick said. “The community wants it to stay that way, not be replaced by an antenna.”

The three planning commissioners present at the Aug. 27 meeting, chairman Vongsavanh Mouanoutoua, Michael Pawlowski and Pam Kallsen, agreed with the public.

“The meeting was passionately charged,” Ramirez said.

City staff did recommend some compromises—such as widening the pole rather than adding an antenna—that would make the telecommunications tower function better while maintaining the flagpole, however none of the options appealed to the planning commission or the public that felt strongly about keeping the flagpole as is.

“There was discussion about a compromise and basically the community felt that you can’t take away from the flagpole by putting in a second flagpole or putting something on top of it,” Hedrick said. “Sprint tried to come up with some alternatives but they couldn’t come up with anything that pleased the community and the planning commission so the flag will stay as it is. What happens now is they will have to come up with a brand new idea. I think they realize they can’t do any modifications to the cell tower and the flagpole the way it is right now because it has to remain a flagpole.”

Sprint could appeal the planning commission decision to the city council, but as of Sept. 2, Ramirez said there has been no paperwork filed for an appeal.

There are several other cell towers in the city that Ramirez said may make better candidates for the antenna project proposed by Sprint. Most towers in Clovis, he said, range from 75 to 90 feet tall, although there are a couple—such as one at the rodeo grounds reaching 150 feet—that exceed that height. Some are possible locations Sprint can look into putting an antenna on.

The Hedrick’s cell tower, Ramirez said, is unique in that it is a flagpole and is highly visible. Because of its location, Ramirez said it is likely the cell tower would not have been approved initially in 2006 if it wasn’t presented with the flagpole design.

“The original applicant, which I believe was Hedrick’s at the time, explained that this was part of beautification and an entrance to Clovis along Shaw Avenue and the Highway 168,” Ramirez said. “That is the main reason it was approved then.”

Likewise, Hedrick said he would not have put a telecommunications tower on his property if it did not double as a beautiful flagpole.