Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals members said yes to allowing Verizon
Wireless to build a 140-foot cell tower at the former town street department
on Grant Ave., 306 feet from any residential property to rectify coverage
gaps for mobile phones.
So why wouldn’t the
BZA permit an 85-foot cell tower behind Bethlehem Lutheran Church on CR
1100N that would 469 feet away from homes with the intent of enhancing
wireless service this time around?
That’s what Doug
Dolan and Daniel Duehren of Dolan Realty Advisors representing Verizon
Wireless wanted to know Thursday as the board voted 3-0 to continue their
request until the next meeting. The petitioners will need to demonstrate the
hardship on the property owner -- in this case the church -- in order for
the variance to be granted.
The hardship that
Dolan and Duehren did present was that there is insufficient coverage in the
southwest corner of Chesterton when the use of cell phones continues to rise
while landline phones are on the way to becoming extinct.
children’s age will never use (landlines). That is the future,” said Dolan.
He and Verizon
radio engineer Abdelnasir Shata told the board they looked extensively for
locations for the tower and figured the church’s property would cause the
least disturbance and still be close enough to serve them as customers.
The church plans to
lease its property out to Verizon for the tower.
Meanwhile, a few
church members made comments in support of the proposal and a letter from
Rev. Erik Grayvold was read into the record claiming he’s had trouble with
dropped calls interfering with his ministry such as times when families have
tried to reach him when loved ones are dying.
Another letter read
into the minutes was from resident Tim Stephenson supporting the petition
for the increased coverage the new tower will bring.
Two opponents on
the other hand from the Rosehill Estates subdivision argued that the visible
presence of a cell tower will lower the property value of those homes. Mark
Maiville provided the board with copies from an article that appeared in a
national publication saying property near a tower decreased in value by 20
Maiville, who added
that he’s not had problems with dropped calls, also brought with him over 60
signatures from Rosehill Estates residents against the request. Finally,
Maiville expressed concern about what the tower would do to bird flight
patterns and asked if an environmental study had been conducted.
Scott Rosenau said he is a radiofrequency engineer and that there are other
ways for cell phone companies to boost coverage other than erecting a large
tower. One way would be using distributed antenna systems, or DAS, which
would be less noticeable.
He also said the
church will benefit financially from the deal while adjacent property values
will be lowered.
Dolan and Shata
rebutted that one cell tower could do the work much easier than 100 DAS
units. Shata said DAS needs to have a line-of-sight in order to function
which could be disrupted by trees.
Before the board
spoke, its attorney Julie Paulson advised that the board cannot let
environmental effects, such as Maiville’s comments about birds, weigh in on
its decision according to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.
BZA member Jim
Kowalski said he was “kind of perplexed” on how to proceed after hearing
both sides’ arguments.
“If you look at the
finding of facts, it doesn’t align with the property itself,” he said.
BZA member Fred
Owens said the key findings need to reflect what the difficulty would be on
the church and suggested Dolan look to other properties as possibilities.
“We need to know not what this does for Verizon, but what it does for the
church,” he said.
Dolan said this is
the one suitable location that would be farthest away from residences and
the company had reduced the tower height from 115 feet to 85 and added
landscaping around the base for the good of the community.
He and Duehren
asked what the hardship was for the case approved last month for a cell
tower on Grant Ave.
The board, Paulson
said, cannot apply that as relevant to this case. Kowalski told the
petitioners the board looks at each petition on a case-by-case basis and
also that the Grant St. tower is in an industrial zoned area.
Duehren said that
the town code does not allow for telecommunication towers without a variance
and that there is no “favoritism” for a tower being in an industrial area
over a residential area.
Dolan asked the
board to continue the case rather than vote to deny, or his firm would
pursue an appeal.
Kowalski said he
would like “to find some kind of happy medium” if possible, and told the
petitioners a few times during the discussion that he also has to consider
the concerns of the opponents.
“To strike one side
down, that doesn’t solve anything,” he said.
Kowalski, Owens and
member Joe Ackerman voted 3-0 to table the discussion to the August meeting.
Absent Thursday were Rodney Cordor and Thomas Browne.
asked if he could see what the town has on file for the Grant St. tower.
Paulson said the information can be obtained through a Request of Public