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Residents wait for answers on cell tower

Rod Carter, an attorney working with Verizon Wireless, presents propagation maps to the Brookfield Plan Commission.

Rod Carter, an attorney working with Verizon Wireless, presents propagation maps to the Brookfield Plan Commission. Photo By Stephanie Jones

May 14, 2013

Brookfield officials put off deciding whether to allow the installation of a 130-foot cell tower near the Still Point subdivision in order to sufficiently weigh residents' concerns, particularly regarding safety.

Following a public hearing Monday, the Plan Commission tabled Verizon Wireless' request for a conditional-use permit that would allow construction of a tower in close proximity to neighboring residences. The group will take up the matter again in June.

Verizon Wireless wants to build a PVC pipe-like monopole, 130 feet tall and expandable to 150 feet, adjacent to the existing water tower on a small parcel of public land between the Elmbrook Memorial Hospital parking lot and the backyards of a few homes.

Water tower too full

In a presentation to the Plan Commission, Rod Carter, an attorney representing Verizon, explained that although the company considered other locations for their equipment — including attaching it to the water tower, which already houses equipment for two telecommunications providers, or constructing it at the city Recycling Center, near Brookfield and River roads — it was determined that a freestanding monopole adjacent to the water tower was the best option.

"With the two carriers up there and the composition of that (water tower) stem right now, to add a third carrier would present some OSHA concerns, not only for the city but for the carriers," Carter said. "It's just not a workable situation."

City Engineer Jeff Chase agreed that allowing any additional attachment points on the water tower would create safety and maintenance issues for the city.

Alternately, constructing the monopole at the Recycling Center would not provide much additional coverage in the desired area, Verizon representatives said, and could create self-interference issues in other areas, due to other nearby Verizon cell towers.

Fall-zone fears

Residents who packed the Common Council chambers to voice their opposition to the proposal, however, were less concerned about cell coverage than the safety of the neighborhood — particularly in the case of lightning strikes and other situations in which the tower could fall into someone's backyard.

"You're going to have a tower with a zero safety setback, and, to me, that's unacceptable," resident Kevin Pasqua said. "And it should be unacceptable to everybody in the city of Brookfield, because once you approve this tower on this site, then you'll have to approve every tower with zero safety setback."

Although Verizon representatives explained that the monopole has been designed to have a maximum fall zone of 46 feet, Pasqua noted that, "at 46 feet, there are still properties and homes within the fall zone of the tower."

In fact, the tower would be within 10 feet of the backyards of the four residential properties directly bordering the site, neighbor John Eimerman said. With children regularly playing in those yards and adults routinely performing yard work, serious injuries could be caused if the tower fell, he noted.

Within the past 15 years, three homes within 500 feet of the proposed site for the tower have been struck by lightning, including one home that was struck twice, neighbor Ed Viring added.

Tom Zimmermann, an engineer with Terra Consulting Group, representing Verizon, said that one of the biggest things that Verizon or any carrier is concerned with is lightning strikes, including the safety of technicians and others around the structure, as well as equipment.

Thus the company has worked to evaluate the resistivity of the soil at the proposed site and develop a ground grid and plan, including ground rods and copper lines, to encourage lightning to strike the ground, rather than seek points on or around the structure.

Neighbors, however, were skeptical that the grounding system would be adequate in protecting an area already prone to lightning strikes.

"This is not a case of if the cell tower will be struck by lightning, but when it will be struck by lightning," Eimerman said.

Verizon makes its case

From Verizon's perspective, Carter said, the company has been willing to work with residents to address safety issues. It has allowed flexibility with regard to configuring the fall zones, as well as with the construction of the climbing apparatus for the tower.

"Any legitimate safety concerns that have been brought up, we've worked hard to address," Carter said. "We can represent that this proposed monopole goes above and beyond what you'd typically find — because of the neighborhood, because of those concerns."

Additionally, Carter described the proposal as being good for the city's economic development, not only through the lease revenue that would be generated by the site, but also from the standpoint of fulfulling residents' expectations for quality wireless systems.

City would collect fee

Fees collected from cellular providers with towers and cell antennas no water towers throughout Brookfield generated $800,000 for the city in 2012. The Still Point tower is expected to generate $26,938 initially, an amount that would increase by about 5 percent a year.

Community Development Director Dan Ertl explained that the proposed monopole is consistent with the telecommunications guidelines the city has in place to evaluate wireless structures.

Ertl noted that safety issues, as well as lease and insurance matters, do not fall under the purview of the Plan Commission, but rather the Common Council.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Plan Commission consideration of a request from Verizon Wireless to construct a 130-foot-tall cell tower at 19295 W. North Ave.

WHEN: June 10

WHERE: Brookfield City Hall, 2000 N. Calhoun Road

TAKE ACTION: The deadline for residents to submit documents to be included in Plan Commission members' packets will be noon June 4.

MORE: Once the Plan Commission acts on the proposal, it will advance to the Common Council for final approval.

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