Zoning board denies cell tower request

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Parallel Towers III and AT&T were denied an appeal for a building permit for a new cellular communications tower at Monday’s Monroe County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.

The appeal concerned a May 27 decision by Monroe County Zoning Administrator Chris Voelker to deny a building permit for a proposed tower at 129 Hayden Drive in Columbia.

Discussion of the appeal had originally been tabled at the Aug. 10 zoning board meeting pending presentation of additional leasing and contract documents between Parallel Towers and AT&T.

At the August meeting, representatives of Parallel Towers and AT&T expressed the need for a new tower due to economically nonviable rent with the current tower as well as the fact the new tower would allow for communication upgrades – including better emergency services communication through First Net.

Representatives also expressed that expensive rent was a problem with AT&T towers all across the country, and AT&T is in the process of negotiating new tower locations in many other areas.

Representatives also said original denial of the building permit was inappropriate. The permit was originally denied because the 185-foot tower did not meet necessary county setback requirements.

It was presented that Illinois state statute allows telecommunication structures to not be denied by certain county zoning restrictions, including setback restrictions.

Charles Fuller, who has lived on the neighboring property since 1979, argued that the proposed tower would prevent him from building any new structures in a significant area on his property.

It was discussed that there is a tower on Fuller’s property currently in use by AT&T, and members of the board questioned whether the new tower would eventually become too expensive for AT&T as the nearby tower had.

Plans called for the existing tower to remain after AT&T moves its communication materials from old tower to new tower.

The representatives said the contract between Parallel Towers and AT&T stated Parallel Towers would not raise their prices. They added First Net does not exist on the older tower.

At Monday’s meeting, attorney Keegan Shea, representing SBA Towers – the company which owns the tower AT&T is currently renting nearby – argued the language cited in county statute is merely permissive rather than mandatory, meaning that while the board could choose to ignore the setback restriction in the case, it did not have to.

Shea also expressed that the contract between SBA Towers and AT&T also described the need for the tower for First Net.

According Shea, SBA acquired the tower and the lease with AT&T from St. Charles Tower, Inc., which originally constructed the tower.

At the beginning of the meeting, representatives of Parallel Towers and AT&T expressed a desire to speak to the board in order to present new information they had gathered.

Monroe County Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Dennis Rodenberg was apprehensive but still swore them in and said they might be allowed to speak. Ultimately, however, they were not  given time to present.

Rodenberg referenced a situation that had developed between meetings to explain his apprehension. While the representatives said AT&T had a signed lease with Parallel Towers at the August meeting, the lease presented later was signed and dated for early September.

“The last information you gave us was… you told us you had something and you didn’t have it until last week,” Rodenberg said.

The motion to deny was made by board member George Obernagel, who also took issue with the representatives’ reference to the then-unsigned lease at the August meeting.

Following the meeting, Obernagel commented on the board’s decision and the representatives’ August testimony.

“They misrepresented it to us, and when they applied for the permit, they said they had a lease at that time,” Obernagel said. “So there was no lease. Then you should deny it.”

AT&T remains involved in a lawsuit with the Monroe County Zoning Board and Monroe County Commissioners in federal court for alleged “unlawful denial of a wireless communications facility siting request.”  

AT&T proposed to build an approximately 155-foot-tall monopole structure with blinking red light at its apex at 1332 Valmeyer Road in Columbia in 2019. It planned to lease land from Advantage Self-Storage for that structure. 

Since the zoning board failed to pass the request, those plans were nixed.

Also addressed at Monday’s meeting was an appeal from Maeystown residents John and Pamela Rehling to allow for an extension to their house.

The extension would see their property come within five feet of a nearby outbuilding. County zoning restrictions demand a setback of at least 10 feet between structures and outbuildings.

John presented a collection of pictures to demonstrate the planned extension as well as the current state of the property. He argued that architecture around Maeystown currently consists of many similar outbuildings close to the main structure on the property.

“It’s Maeystown,” Rehling said. “I think almost everything was built to be something like this, and we think it’s gonna fit right in with the style,”

The appeal was ultimately approved unanimously by the board.

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