If a fake eucalyptus sprouted in a small grove of trees near the Back Bay along Irvine Avenue, would it look like a tree or — as one Newport Beach resident suggested—would it look more like a "giant toilet bowl cleaner?"

And how much should it matter what it looks like, if that fake tree is something area residents need to access the latest in telecommunications technology?

Those were among the questions that came before the Newport Beach City Council Tuesday night as council members, city staff and representatives for Mobilitie, a real estate developer of "vertical assets," grappled with a proposal to build a telecommunications monopole disguised as a 62-foot tall eucalyptus.

Also in the mix was Harbor Christian Church, which owns the property and derives income from telecommunications providers who use its cross and a faux-chimney to host antennae.

Though the council ultimately directed staff to return in late March with a more detailed proposal, the idea made for something of a philosophical conundrum.

Should the city allow aesthetic compromises in favor of improved cell service for Verizon customers, and because the pole would also have the capability to eventually serve a total of four carriers, residents who text and tweet using AT&T or Metro PCS?

The aforementioned resident, frequent council critic Jim Mosher, said the fake tree was ugly and clashed with the Back Bay's natural beauty.

Councilman Tony Petros agreed, saying that allowing an exceedingly tall metal structure to be built adjacent to one of the major gateways to the city, "doesn't to me smack of greatness."

Furthermore, Petros said, it didn't make sense to build a monopole with the capacity to serve multiple carriers if only one—Verizon—was officially signed on. He likened it to building a retail center without tenants to fill it.

But Mayor Keith Curry said that with the "exponential growth of telecommunications" the problem might have more in common with the problems facing cities as they laid the groundwork for electrical systems and gas lines. They may not have been pretty, but in a modern urban environment, provisions for telecommunications may be necessary.

Petros, along with Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, opposed moving forward with the proposal.

In other news, the council allotted funds to plan for a new Regional General Dredging Permit, moved forward with planning the Uptown Newport Development and discussed ways of decommissioning the old city hall site.

They also authorized city staff to move forward with the creation of a special fund for harbor capital improvements, which would sequester tideland fees for use only in the harbor.

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan