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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 08/21/13
Denial of tower variance
could lead to court battle
by CHRIS GRAYThe denial of a height variance has toppled an Internet tower before it could stand.
Observer Staff Writer
The Bruce Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted 3-2 to deny a variance for a 200-foot wireless Internet tower, with the applicant potentially gearing up to take the issue to the Macomb County Circuit Court.
ZBA Secretary Don Hook and member Gary Anthony were the dissenting votes at the Aug. 12 special meeting. ZBA alternate member Mike Lerchen sat in place of ZBA Chairperson James Carnago, who was absent from the meeting.
The ZBA's decision throws a wrench in the plans of Solvaris, Inc., which sought the 25-foot variance to install the tower on property located at 36 Mile and Hipp roads to provide high-speed Internet for areas not receiving the service.
Matt Lauer, Bruce Township resident and owner of Solvaris, requested the variance to bypass the township's tower height limit of 175 feet. He said the extra height is better for broadcasting the wireless signal and to house all the required equipment.
"We need room for more equipment or we will need to build a second tower somewhere else in the township and we'll need to install more repeaters and antennas in the community," he said.
A motion to approve the variance failed with a 2-3 vote, with ZBA members Gary Wardosky, Lerchen and Ray Zolno casting the dissenting votes.
After taking a recess to discuss the matter, the board voted to deny the variance. Wardosky supported the denial, saying it doesn't stop Solvaris from installing a 175-foot tower. He said the township's Master Plan calls for maintaining a rural atmosphere and that the township already has Internet access.
"Mr. Lauer's business will still be able to continue at 175 feet," Wardosky said.
Reese Serra, Lauer's attorney and counsel for 123.net, said they will "probably" appeal the ZBA's action. This would take the matter to the circuit court to be decided there.
In a statement, Lauer said if the only remedy is an appeal to circuit court it would be "an absolute shame" because it sends the wrong message.
"I'm confident that a circuit court appeal would overturn our denial and approve our variance, but neither side should be wasting time and money fighting this in court," Lauer said.
Clerk Susan Brockmann said an applicant has 30 days after the approval of meeting minutes to file for an appeal. The ZBA's next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26, where the minutes can be approved.
Brockmann said the tower will be brought up at Board of Trustees meeting to be held today, Aug. 21, to clarify whether Lauer must re-apply to install a 175-foot tower.
"I don't feel it's absolutely necessary, but since it's controversial and has been a long process to clean everything up, it'll go to the board to clear things up," she said.
Residents speak up
In the event of not receiving the variance, Lauer said a second tower could be placed in the northwest part of the township to cover the area better.
Serra said approving a 12 percent height increase would ultimately serve the community by not burdening Lauer's finances and additional residents with a second tower.
"Having one tower that is slightly taller is more efficient, it saves resources, he doesn't have to buy more devices . . . this is really the decision that is going to benefit the greatest amount of Bruce Township residents," he said.
Residents like Michelle Schuchard spoke in favor of the variance, saying it would improve her capacity to work as well as the ability for her children to do schoolwork.
"We have slow dial-up, and it's hit-or-miss, so imagine living in the Dark Ages like that," she said. "If you guys won't approve it, put in my backyard, I don't care, I want high-speed Internet."
Others, like Andy Meinhard, were against the variance, saying the tower would be close to their homes and would affect the rural atmosphere. Meinhard was leery about Lauer's plan, saying it seemed to change each meeting it was presented.
"Now Mr. Lauer is threatening that if he doesn't get his extra 25 feet he is going to have to put up another tower now," he said.
This was the third time the issue has come before the ZBA, with prior motions that either approved or denied the variance failing at two previous meetings.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of Lauer's Special Land Use (SLU) request in June to use township property, while the Board of Trustees voted unanimously for the SLU in July. The board made its action contingent on the ZBA's height variance approval.