Chesterton Tribune



Cell tower at Lutheran church continued by BZA after protests

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Last month, 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.

“People my 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 percent.

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.

Maiville’s neighbor 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.

Dolan afterwards 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 Record.


Posted 7/24/2015




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