Tuesday, June 24, 2014 | NEWS
Objection to a Deer Lake cell tower
Gregg Westigard | Staff writer
ST. CROIX FALLS – A proposed new telecommunications tower near Deer Lake has drawn opposition from some neighbors. But the issues involved go beyond just this tower.
A Polk County committee postponed action on the Verizon Wireless application Wednesday, June 18, stating that it wanted to receive a recommendation from the town. That evening, the St. Croix Falls Town Board met and made no recommendation on the application, stating that it did not have authority to act on the application. A new public hearing on the tower application will be held July 16 to try and resolve the issue. The confusion arises from a new Wisconsin law that modifies the regulatory powers of local governments in regard to cell phone towers, a statute that affects a Polk County ordinance and town zoning.
That new Wisconsin statute was included in the 2013 Biennial Budget, Act 20. The law states that a political subdivision of the state may regulate cell phone towers under its zoning ordinance, but places strict limits on how it may do so, according to an information memorandum from the Wisconsin Legislative Council. The memo goes on to state that a political subdivision may not prohibit the placement of cell towers in particular locations.
Jeff Fuge, Polk County corporation council, told the conservation committee at its meeting Wednesday that this means the committee cannot deny the tower application based on the site but can look at how the application meets three criteria in the Polk County telecommunications tower ordinance. Those criteria, sections A, C and E in Article I of the ordinance, mention in part accommodating the public health and welfare and avoiding potential damage to adjacent properties.
The proposed tower in this application would be built in a wooded patch by a field just north of the intersection of Hwys. 8 and 35. Access to the tower site would be south off Peer Avenue, a street heading east off 35 which leads to residences on Deer Lake. The cleared area for the tower could be seen from Hwy. 35.
Verizon wants to build a 240-foot freestanding tower (no guy wires) in a fenced enclosure. The property is owned by Dale and Judy Wester and Richard and Jolene Wester and would be leased to Verizon. Shane Begley, the consultant hired to locate and contract for a tower site, said that Verizon specified a specific area where they desired the tower to be located. Begley worked out the negotiations with the Westers for the site.
The Polk County Conservation, Development, Recreation and Education Committee held a public hearing on the application last Wednesday morning at which Begley presented information on the application. Eight Deer Lake residents appeared at the hearing and several of them stated their concerns for the record. They identified themselves as members of the Deer Lake Improvement Association, the property owners group for the lake.
John Wright expressed concern about the height of the tower and said an optimal site for a tower is available on the town hall site two miles to the west. He said that the DLIA has worked on standards for Deer Lake which the tower does not meet.
Jim Miller said that erosion of property values is a concern. He said that the town hall site would benefit more residents, and the proposed site does not fit in with the town’s comprehensive plan.
The state should not put limits on local governments, Kevin Baumgart said, and called the new state regulations a monster. He said that Verizon wants a tower every six miles, which he called excessive. Baumgart said the county should reject the tower because of the adverse economic impact it would have.
Mary Ellen Blanding said four generations of their family have lived on Deer Lake. “We are concerned about the aesthetic values and the property values that would be hurt by the tower,” she said.
Begley responded to the comments, saying that the town hall site was not in the search area defined by Verizon, and Verizon determines the number of towers needed based on their engineering studies. He said that the tower would be available as a co-location site for three or four additional tenants and might hold up to 52 separate antennas.