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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 09/11/13
Solvaris filing appeal
of ZBA variance denial
by CHRIS GRAYBruce Township and a local Internet company may have agreed on a land lease, but will be at odds in court.
Observer Staff Writer
Solvaris, Inc. is filing appeal of the Zoning Board of Appeals' (ZBA) decision to deny a 25-foot height variance for a wireless Internet tower.
The decision follows the Board of Trustees' 5-0 vote at a special meeting held Aug. 30 that approved a lease agreement between the township and Solvaris to utilize township-owned land to install the tower.
Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, said he is filing an appeal that would bring the matter before the Macomb County Circuit Court. As of Sept. 6, he said he was waiting for the filing process to be completed.
"At this point it's probably our best option since there is no way they'll review the antiquated ordinance," he said.
Lauer has 30 days to file the appeal after the ZBA's approval of its Aug. 12 special meeting minutes. The ZBA approved the minutes on Aug. 26.
Lauer requested that his tower stand at 200 feet, an extra 25 feet above the township's tower ordinance limit. He said he needs the extra height for housing equipment, broadcasting the signal better and to prevent additional expenses by installing more towers.
The ZBA denied the height variance on the grounds that it doesn't stop Solvaris from installing a 175-foot tower. The ZBA also said the township's Master Plan calls for maintaining a rural atmosphere and that the township already has Internet access.
Supervisor Richard Cory said he understood the need for tall towers in the township in order to bring Internet services to people who need it.
"The towers are shorter in Washington Township or Shelby because they have the density, here we don't have the density," he said.
The Planning Commission determined that it would not investigate amendments to its tower height ordinance.
Regardless of the height, both Solvaris and the township signed a seven-year lease agreement for the company to use land at 36 Mile and Hipp roads. The board unanimously approved a lease that charges $200 a month.
Lauer said the lease was a standard agreement that asked for five consecutive periods of five years, meaning the lease would automatically be renewed for 25 years after the initial five years.
Treasurer Deborah Obrecht suggested the initial time period of five years be increased to seven years, which the board agreed to change. She said the township already lost three Internet providers looking to invest in the area, so the township should give assurance to a company that has purchased a tower.
"I think if you at least give him seven years to get up and running, it gives him a little more breathing room," she said.
Trustee Paul Okoniewski said the agreement didn't give the township a chance to review the terms before renewal. He asked that the automatic renewal be removed and have the board review the agreement before each renewal.
"We need to make sure this language is right now and not have to re-look at it down the road because we made a mistake," he said.
Clerk Susan Brockmann said the township does have automatic renewals for agreements like the fire service contract with Romeo, but that agreement does provide opportunities for opening negotiations within certain time periods.
"I don't think a review, a simple review, is out of the question," she said. "We're not saying a termination, we're not saying he has to take the tower down."
Lauer said the agreement was designed to protect the company since it's investing a significant amount of funding. He called the review clause a "deal killer," saying it is too ambiguous of a term.
"I'm not going to put a tower up and spend over $100,000 and have the rug get pulled out from underneath it," he said.
The board agreed to write in a 90-day period where either party could open up the lease for negotiations. If neither party brings it up during that time, the lease will renew as it stands.
The lease states Solvaris will be charged $500 an acre for any crop damage and acreage loss. Connie Schapman, who leases part of the land for farming, said the $500 wouldn't cover any crop loss, but only the investment into the land.
"It's not like I'm going to make $500 profit off of him," she said.
The board added a reimbursing of the cost of the per-acre rental rate to the fee, which was in a previous version of the agreement. The current rate is $68 per acre.
The board also cleared up that fencing on the property will adhere to township ordinances. The lease was made effective Aug. 30 and signed by both parties the same day.