The Luckman family has owned a farmstead in the Rattlesnake Valley, on the eastern slope of Waterworks Hill, for more than a century. Today, the family’s 126 acres are surrounded on three sides by Missoula County open space land. To the east is a subdivision off Duncan Drive. Verizon has long eyed the Luckmans’ island of private property, wanting to build a 50-foot-tall cell phone tower on it to improve the valley’s spotty cell phone coverage.
“They’ve been after us for years,” says Greg Luckman. “They need a tower up there for that valley, and I guess our property’s the best place to put it.”
Now the Luckmans are receptive.
Greg is the son of Doris Luckman, who’s 82 and owns the land though doesn’t live on it. “She’s getting older and she sold her business several years ago and the income’s kind of dried up from that,” Greg says. “And [Verizon] offered to pay a long-term lease and she’d get some income.”
Verizon has submitted its preliminary plan (PDF): to build a road that would switchback up the steep hillside behind Highland and Skyline drives to the northernmost point of the Luckman property, and erect the tower; Mountain View Drive, south of the soccer fields and the PEAS Farm, would hit the tower if it continued west up the hill about a quarter mile.
The road would also give the Luckmans access to the upper reaches of their land. “They surrounded us for years with open space,” Greg says, “so we had no way to get up to our property on top, and they won’t let us in anywhere else, so it was our best avenue to be able to get up to our property.”
Denise Alexander, of the Missoula City-County Office of Planning and Grants, says the proposal is subject to both city and county regulations. The city might require a change to the proposed height of a retaining wall; the county might require the road to be paved. But other than those two changes, which could be resolved by the city and county boards of adjustment, there doesn’t appear to be much that could get in the way of the project once it’s officially submitted.
Which concerns a lot of neighbors. Jeremy Roberts closes this week on a house on Highland Drive. “A big selling point for my family was all that open space above us in the backyard,” he says. “I knew it was private land, but made the assumption that no road could get up there for development.” He’s a long-time Verizon customer with poor reception, but, he says, “I don’t want improved coverage if it means roads, towers and houses in that open space.” Another neighbor, Brian Elling, has begun an online petition asking Verizon to reconsider.
The Luckmans don’t have immediate plans to build a house or two off the new road, but Greg says it’s possible in the future. “One of the family members may put a house up there sometime—who knows?” he says. “Nothing’s concrete.”
If the family chooses to subdivide and develop the property, it’d need to go through a separate subdivision review process—unless Doris Luckman gives lots to her children, which would be exempt from subdivision review under state law.