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Posted: 02/05/14

A TOWERING ISSUE. Above, the wireless Internet tower installed by Solvaris, Inc. stands on township property at 36 Mile Road east of Hipp Road. The tower is a focal point in debates on whether to allow 200-foot tall towers in the township.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Internet tower under fire
during height debates

Observer Staff Writer
      An Internet tower is being investigated by Bruce Township after residents claimed it violated tower height limitations.
       The tower came into question during a public hearing held Jan. 29 on ordinance amendments that would permit the Planning Commission to review towers up to 200 feet in height through Special Land Use (SLU) requests.
       Tower heights became a hot topic last year as a local company, Solvaris, Inc., asked to place a 200-foot wireless Internet tower on township land at 36 Mile and Hipp roads to sell the service to residents.
       Local ordinance allows for towers up to 175 feet in height, and anything over the limit requires a variance. The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied a height variance, meaning Solvaris could only erect a 175-foot tower.
       Resident Connie Schapman said she and her husband, Rich, had the tower professionally measured using lasers. She claimed the measurements show the tower at 207 feet.
       "There has been a lot of misinformation," she said. "You've heard a lot of different things."
       Commissioner and Board Representative Paul Okoniewski said the township would have its engineers measure the tower themselves. Patrick Meagher, township planning consultant, agreed the township itself should measure the tower to verify the height. He noted that the submitted measurements from the Schapmans didn't include any reports associated with them.
       As of Observer print deadline, the results of the township measurements were not available.
       Clerk Susan Brockmann said a tower above 200 feet would not only be in violation of township ordinance, but also break the terms of the lease agreement with Solvaris. The lease would have to come before the Board of Trustees.
       "He said it's 175 and I'm trusting that is what he did until proven otherwise," she said.
       If the tower was found to be taller than permitted, Supervisor Richard Cory, the township's ordinance enforcement officer, would record the situation and act upon it. Brockmann said ordinance disputes are usually settled by the person complying or applying for a variance, though occasionally they end up in court.
       The township and Solvaris are already in a court battle, as Solvaris appealed the decision made by the ZBA to deny a height variance.
       "I imagine this would throw a curveball into that litigation," she said. "I can't imagine this would be looked upon favorably by the judge."
       Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, said in a written statement that the measurements presented by the Schapmans may have been obtained by being on the fenced-in leased land. He didn't comment on the tower's height.
       "I've had two instances where my chains have been cut with bolt cutters," he said. "I kept quiet about it because I didn't want to stir anything up."
       He said due to instances like surveying stakes being removed, he has installed security cameras on the property, and is reviewing footage to find evidence of sabotage or trespassing.
       "I've been threatened personally, and dealt with harassment, property damage and theft throughout this project," he said.
       He said it would be premature to discuss the lease agreement because he hasn't had ample time to finish constructing the tower, such as bad weather and only recently receiving electricity.
       "We are unable to provide service to anxious residents because of delays in both the regulatory and permitting process," he said.
       Planning Commission Secretary Blake Taylor said it would be disheartening to find out the tower was more than 200 feet tall when the township is trying to provide a service to the community.
       "If that is the case, I think that is just a slap in Bruce Township's face," he said.
       Tower heights
       The Planning Commission voted 4-0 to recommend amendments to the wireless communication towers ordinance to permit towers up to 200 feet in height. Chairman Mike Tremblay, Vice-chairman James Carnago and Commissioner Ken Scott were not present.
       If approved by the Board of Trustees, the change would let the Planning Commission address towers that are 176 feet to 200 feet through SLU requests. This applies to any township-owned land.
       Towers not exceeding 200 feet can apply for a SLU on land zoned rural suburban, industrial district and planned industrial district. Anything above 200 feet goes before the ZBA, as towers above that height require lighting.
       Okoniewski said the amendment wasn't for Solvaris alone, but was an overall change for the township as more towers become state and federally regulated.
       "I'm very sympathetic to people that have them near them, but we're losing more and more control of some of these things," he said.
       Andy Meinhard, a resident who lives near the Solvaris tower, said he had the township to thank for an "eyesore" in his backyard. He said 175 feet was bad enough to look at, so he didn't want to see the limit rise.
       "I'd like you to keep the ordinance, at a minimum, where it is," he said. "How would you like that in your backyard? I don't think you would."
       The board's next regular meeting is Feb. 19.

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