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Posted: 03/26/14

TOUTING A TOWER. Above, Matt Lauer, Bruce resident and owner of Solvaris, Inc., tells the Bruce Township Board of Trustees he wishes to work with them on increasing the height of his high-speed Internet tower to 200 feet. The board approved of maintaining a lease with Solvaris after multiple breaches were discovered.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Citizens support decision
to keep Solvaris tower

Observer Staff Writer
      Anthony Ruggirello, a Romeo High School student, expressed his frustration last Wednesday night about his inability to do schoolwork at his home in Bruce Township.
       "Most of my study guides are online, and where I live I can't reach 'em," he said. "I really need the Internet out there if I want to pass 11th grade."
       Similar concerns were vented to the Board of Trustees at its March 19 meeting by residents, helping fuel a decision to maintain a lease agreement with Solvaris, Inc. to provide high-speed Internet via a tower.
       Solvaris' tower, installed on township-owned land at 36 Mile and Hipp roads in December, has been a point of contention for the past year due to Solvaris proposing a 200-foot height. Solvaris has maintained all along the height would bypass difficulties created by the township's topography when broadcasting the signal.
       When residents claimed in January that the tower exceeded the township's 175-foot height limit, township engineers measured it and discovered it was 207 feet tall.
       The violation sparked 13 breaches of the township's agreement with Solvaris, such as not abiding by federal aviation regulations. Last month, the board gave Solvaris 30 days to comply.
       At the March meeting, Supervisor Richard Cory said the board should continue with the lease. He read a letter from the township's attorney that stated Solvaris was "in substantial compliance."
       This settled issues like the height, acquiring permits to conduct electrical work, co-location on the tower and that Solvaris will reimburse legal fees incurred by the township throughout the ordeal.
       "He took the tower and brought it down," said Cory.
       Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, had appealed the Zoning Board of Appeals' (ZBA) decision in August to deny a height variance to the Macomb County Circuit Court. However, following the lease violations, Lauer dropped the lawsuit.
       "I take full responsibility for the construction error that caused our tower to be too tall," Lauer said.
       Lauer, a Bruce resident, said his project requires cooperation on multiple levels of government, and wants to work with the township on making it 200 feet.
       "I want nothing more than to work together again toward the common goal of bringing Internet to this township as I promised to do," he said.
       Treasurer Deborah Obrecht said this is a business arrangement between Solvaris and the township, and Lauer has worked through the contract accordingly.
       "During that 12 months you (Lauer) had very much integrity, you were very honest and were trustworthy," she said.
       Lauer said he endured harassment and personal attacks throughout the process. The board offered its apologies, saying it didn't intend for him to feel bullied.
       "It is time to move on," Cory said.
       Trustee Paul Okoniewski said the board is in favor of a 200-foot tower, pointing to resolutions approved by the board and the Planning Commission that approved of the height.
       "It's how we can best get to that 200 feet legally and to support the community," he said.
       An ordinance amendment that would allow 176-200 foot towers through special land use requests is on the agenda for the Planning Commission's March 27 meeting. Lauer said a 175-foot tower wouldn't be profitable or viable, so if the amendment doesn't go through, he will likely address the ZBA.
       More than a dozen residents showed up to the meeting wearing shirts that read "200 foot Solvaris tower supporter." Among them was Lori Anaple, who believed the board hadn't treated Lauer fairly.
       "It doesn't do any good to publicly berate a man who is trying to better his community," she said. "Proclaiming on record that a person has been intentionally deceptive, it can be taken as fact and not as your personal opinion."
       Phillip Grudizinski held up a Chromebook and iPad Air distributed by Romeo Community Schools to their students, calling them "boat anchors" because they need Internet service to function.
       "I really don't see a tower being that much of an inconvenience," he said.
       Erika Weichel supported keeping the lease and height. The Solvaris customer said a lack of high-speed Internet could bring down home values.
       "It'll severely limit the people who could purchase a home in our area, obviously school-age or if they have a job, that is a problem," she said.
       No residents approached the board to speak in opposition of the tower or lease agreement at Wednesday's meeting.

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