After a debate lasting more than three hours, the Afton City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to approve a Washington County application to build a public safety radio tower in the city.

Sheriff Bill Hutton said after the vote that the county will move forward with construction of the 800-megahertz stealth tower, which will resemble a pine tree and will be built on land in the Afton Hills residential area.

"It's not only a tower for Afton but for Washington County, the metro area and the state," the sheriff said.

The tower would be one of 14 serving Washington County under the new radio system, a state effort to bring counties onto the same radio frequency in the event of a disaster.

Sheriff's Capt. Steve Pott, who has headed the county's effort, said the tower is needed to ensure radio coverage for deputies, firefighters and other emergency workers working in the Afton area. The city contracts with the Sheriff's Office for policing.

But several neighbors who live in the area where the tower will be built protested through the evening. One of them, Susan Sando, referred to the tower as a "monopine" and said it would look out of place in the neighborhood.

"It will stick out grossly larger than any tree on that block," she told council members. "It belongs in California."

Council members also debated the legality of a city ordinance, but a motion by Council Member Joe Richter to send the issue back to the city's planning commission for review was voted down.

"We never thought it would be this complicated or laborious or contentious," Mayor Julia Welter said before the final vote.

Then Welter, Richter and Randy Nelson voted to approve the tower. Peg Nolz and Nick Mucciacciaro voted against it.

"We're very pleased," County Administrator Jim Schug said after the vote. "We understand the concerns of the residents. We plan to be good neighbors."

Washington County should be able to put the tower in operation by February, Pott said. Washington County is the last of the metro counties to put the 800-megahertz system in place.

The 88-foot tower would resemble a pine tree and be disguised amid natural trees on property on Afton Hills Court South, Pott said. The county has a conditional agreement to buy land owned by Jeffrey and Jennifer Morgan.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554