Long may it wave.
That was the overwhelming sentiment of Clovis residents at a Planning Commission meeting Thursday night in support of a large flag that has flown from a cellphone tower at the Shaw Avenue entry to the city for the past nine years.
Residents were concerned about a proposed antenna configuration change that could result in the flag’s removal. City staff and the owner of Hedrick’s Chevrolet, which once owned the property the pole stands on, said the flag must stay.
Planning commissioners agreed, opposing a plan for the new configuration or one with a wider pole and a similar flag.
Chairman Vong Mouanoutoua, who was on the Planning Commission in 2006, said residents never viewed the pole as a cell tower.
“It came to us as a flagpole, not a cell phone tower,” he said, referring to the approval nine years ago.
Commissioner Pam Kallsen said the flagpole has become an “iconic” part of Clovis.
The issue can be appealed to the City Council. The cell tower company also can make changes to the existing pole without returning for city approval as long as the work doesn’t alter the structure.
City staff said the flag must stay even if the pole is changed. In exchange for permitting a tower taller than city guidelines allowed, the city made the large American flag a condition of approval for the cellphone provider.
A cellphone contractor working for Sprint asked the city to change the 90-foot cellphone pole’s configuration to include an “antenna array” at the top. Residents were concerned that the flag would not be part of the plan. The existing pole is a “monopole” design. The antenna array contains offshoot antennas at the top.
Mordecai Fayas, a site development manager for SBA, which operates the cell tower for Sprint, said SBA would be willing to incorporate the flag in a new pole with the protruding antenna or build a second pole of similar height for a similar flag size. That second pole, he said, would require the company to buy additional land.
“It is pretty iconic and we really don’t want to change the structure,” Fayas said.
By Thursday afternoon, city officials said they had been bombarded with 470 emails in support of the flag remaining.
Residents told planning commissioners that the flag represents all veterans and the patriotism of the community.
James Binion, whose son, Matthew Abbate, was killed in Afghanistan, said the city needs to preserve the flagpole on behalf of the Clovis men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If there’s any way to preserve that flagpole, we would be very grateful,” he said.
There also were concerns about making the flagpole stand out.
“This flagpole needs to stand alone with no other poles around it,” Bryce Henderson said. “It should be at least a quarter-mile from any other poles.”
As long as it stays a cellphone pole, it was meant to be a flagpole.
Brett Hedrick, owner of Hedrick’s Chevrolet
Brett Hedrick, who owns Hedrick’s Chevrolet, said he agreed with city staff’s report.
“As long as it stays a cellphone pole,” he said, “it was meant to be a flagpole.
He said he doesn’t know about the technology that will require changes in the pole.
“There’s a way to do that where it will work for everyone,” he said.
Hedrick said the flag is so highly revered by the community that he gets calls when it’s not meeting flag etiquette guidelines.
“People call when the lights are out or when it’s ripped or twisted, anytime it’s not pristine and following the flag’s rules,” Hedrick said.
Hedrick’s Chevrolet no longer owns the 900-square-foot flagpole site. He said it was sold to the cellphone company.
The flag made national news in 2010 when it was stolen and recovered after a week.
Thieves apparently covered a light that illuminated the flag and then pulled it down from a cellphone tower that served as the dealership’s flagpole.
The theft outraged some community organizations, and prompted offers of replacements. The Clovis Veterans Memorial District agreed to replace the flag and ordered a new one before the old one was returned, dropped off at a Clovis fire station.