Planning commission expresses its concerns
By Scott Bellile
AT&T hopes to build a wireless broadband internet tower to serve the rural town of Caledonia.
The proposed 135-foot monopole cell tower would occupy a wooded 20-acre parcel owned by the Fox Valley Muzzleloaders. It would be located along Seefeld Road, south of Cut-Off Road and east of Cincoe Lake.
The tower would be a straight pole containing no guide wires or lighting and “kind of hidden along the tree line,” according to Michael Iacopetti, a site development specialist for SAC Wireless representing AT&T.
The tower’s wireless internet signals would serve AT&T customers within a radius of 3 to 4 miles. The project would be federally funded as part of an initiative to bring high-speed broadband internet to rural areas.
The Caledonia Town Board on Feb. 20 recommended a conditional use permit for the tower to the Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Committee, the governing board that authorizes such permits for Caledonia.
The public is invited to weigh in on the proposal at a morning hearing before the Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Committee Thursday, March 23, at the Waupaca County Courthouse, room 1068. A time will be announced when the agenda is posted.
On the agenda will also be a hearing for a proposed 185-foot AT&T tower in the town of Dayton off East Road. The committee is scheduled to vote on both that morning.
While the county zoning committee will take residents’ comments into account, its powers are limited. Wisconsin state statutes forbid governing bodies from denying telecommunications companies applications due to concerns over height, aesthetics, lights or property placement. Municipalities also cannot enact ordinances that regulate signal strength or quality.
“Really the only thing we have available to us now are safety concerns,” Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Director Ryan Brown told the Press Star. “If there’s a viable safety concern, then we can introduce conditions, otherwise it’s extremely limited.”
How towers are placed
At a Feb. 6 Caledonia Planning Commission meeting, Iacopetti said AT&T determines “strategic” geographic coordinates for new towers. The company finds a participating landowner within a half-mile, writes a five-year contract and pays him or her to use the property.
“Typically if we can, we like to always locate on an existing tower just because it’s easier to do that,” Iacopetti said. “But we couldn’t find an existing tower within our ‘search ring,’ and the closest one I take it is about 3 ½ miles away.”
When a tower exists in the search ring, a telecommunications company might rent space from the owner to save on costs. AT&T would be willing to lease to other providers. A 135-foot tower can potentially fit four carriers, Iacopetti said.
“That will kind of save some land space and, you know, minimize the towers that are going up for the area as well,” Iacopetti said.
However, Iacopetti also said, “A lot of the tower carriers do prefer to have their own towers with their own equipment.” This fact concerned Caledonia’s commissioners.
Commissioners weigh in
Commission Chairman Marvin Schneider said he hopes companies “are willing to lease rather than build because my sense is that as a community, we’re not going to be real happy about offering up more opportunities for significant[ly] more towers within 3.5 miles.”
Commissioner Kim Miller said she doesn’t want to see “our township littered with all these cell towers.”
“I’d like to see a lot more cooperation between the different cell services,” Miller said. “Because one reason we’re approving these is to know that other cell services can [co]locate, but here it’s sounding like AT&T would much prefer just to be on their own. So I’m not happy about it, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to our citizens to make sure they have adequate service out here.”
In December 2015, the Caledonia Town Board approved a conditional use permit for SBA and Verizon to build a 199-foot cell tower on Art Gorges’s property, located on County Highway W across from Konow Roj Drive.
SBA and Verizon have yet to break ground and the conditional use permit is set to expire in April if they don’t. Schneider said he’s been told the companies do plan to start in time.
“We would like service,” Schneider said. “I mean, we have people saying we would like to see service. And zero towers isn’t good.”
Caledonia Town Chairwoman Paula Pagel asked if SBA and Verizon might back out and move that proposed cell tower elsewhere.
“Let me just provide a little reassurance,” Iacopetti said. “Oftentimes carriers … do not want to go through the hassle of, they’ve already put so much money and work in trying to get this tower to go through, that even if another tower carrier were to build a Verizon tower and it’s available [to lease space from], they’ve already put so much time and money into the current project they’re working on. [If] all they need to do is renew the permit or re-file and get that done, they’ll do that.”
AT&T plans to start building its tower in 2018.
“I think that’s good for the community,” Schneider said, “but I think we have to highlight what our concerns are.”
“Right,” Pagel agreed. “You want to make sure it’s what’s best for the community, not best for [the telecommunications company].”
Last year State Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, proposed a bill that would restrict mobile service tower placement to “within 750 feet of the boundary of a residential zoning district that is the least dense of all such districts in the political subdivision.” It failed to pass but Allen told CBS 58 in January he continues to work on it.