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Posted: 01/01/14

Bruce debates 200-foot
Internet tower in 2013

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Bruce officials and a local Internet company were at odds when it came to installing a wireless Internet tower in the township.
       The tower came to light in March when Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, Inc., sought a Special Land Use (SLU) to set up an 80-foot tower at his home on Windy Knoll Lane.
       Lauer said the tower would provide a faster Internet speed for his business and could be offered to neighbors. The original tower was 175 feet, but Lauer lowered it to 80 feet after gathering input from neighbors.
       "As an asset to the health, safety and welfare to the township, it will enhance education, business opportunities, recreation, entertainment and convenience for residents," he said.
       The Planning Commission was leery about the request since the tower would aid a home business. The commission voted 6-0 to recommending denial of Lauer's request.
       "If you grant this, you could probably throw your home occupation section 2.21 away," said Commissioner James Carnago.
       In May, Lauer came back with a different proposal, asking to place a 195-foot tower on township-owned land at 36 Mile and Hipp roads and offer wireless Internet to residents by partnering with Michigan-based 123.net.
       The proposal included use of the township's 150-foot tower at the Township Hall as well as installing repeater antennas to broadcast the signal.
       The Board of Trustees voted in favor of a SLU that would permit the proposal. Residents like Andy Meinhard were against the proposal, saying they didn't wish to see the tower in the rural township.
       "Not to knock Mr. Lauer for wanting to provide a service, but not in my backyard, and not without answering a whole bunch of concerns I have," he said.
       Upon hearing concerns from residents, the Planning Commission postponed any decisions on the tower in May, citing issues like health studies, lighting requirements for the tower and a timetable for service roll-out. Lauer increased the tower to 200 feet as well, saying the extra height negates the need for additional towers.
       "With a 200-foot tall structure . . . it's going to allow us to have broader coverage and reach people's rooftops with repeater sites that we'll be able to install on rooftops without requiring any additional special land use on the home," Lauer said.
       Height objections
       In May, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) made three failed motions on whether to allow a height variance for the tower. The township's ordinance limits towers to 175 feet.
       The Planning Commission reconvened in June and voted to recommend approval of the 200-foot tower, but only if a detailed site plan was provided and federal lighting requirements for the tower were addressed.
       The Board of Trustees followed suit, approving the tower in July with a 5-0 vote but saying it was contingent on the ZBA's variance. The ZBA, however, again failed to pass a motion on the height variance.
       The ZBA would later vote 3-2 in August to deny the 200-foot variance, with ZBA Secretary Don Hook and member Gary Anthony dissenting. ZBA member Gary Wardosky said the denial wouldn't prevent Lauer's business from continuing.
       "Mr. Lauer's business will still be able to continue at 175 feet," Wardosky said.
       The 175-foot tower received approval from the Board of Trustees on Aug. 21, and township officials discussed a lease agreement for use of the township land.
       Supervisor Richard Cory said Solvaris met all the stipulations laid out by the Planning Commission, including a site plan and complying with federal lighting standards.
       Regardless of the approval, Lauer filed an appeal of the ZBA decision to the Macomb County Circuit Court to receive the variance.
       "At this point it's probably our best option since there is no way they'll review the antiquated ordinance," he said.
       Cory, however, asked the Planning Commission in September to review the tower height ordinance to see if it could be amended.
       "One of the reasons that the ZBA gave was they want to keep the place rural, and rural is getting real blurred for me because I see towers all over the area," Cory said.
       On Dec. 18, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to hold a public hearing to change the ordinance. The amendment would allow the commission to approve of towers 175 feet to 200 feet in height using SLU requests. Anything over 200 feet would go to the ZBA.
       The public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22.


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