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Posted: 04/09/14

Changes to BT tower ordinance under review

Observer Staff Writer
      The Bruce Township Planning Commission will review revised amendments to its wireless communication tower ordinance this month.
       Commissioners are reviewing changes to the ordinance that would permit towers 176-200 feet in height through Special Land Use (SLU) requests. Towers above 200 feet would be reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
       The amendments are expected to be before the commission at its April 23 meeting.
       The proposed changes were reviewed by township attorney Christine Anderson to ensure they would be enforceable and constitutional. In a letter, Anderson cautioned that recent developments in federal law will affect the decision-making process on towers.
       Anderson pointed to a case in 2012 where West Bloomfield fought the installation of a 90-foot tower by T-Mobile. The case pointed out that, according to the Federal Telecommunications Act, any denial of a tower must be in writing and be supported by sufficient evidence.
       West Bloomfield Township tried to deny the tower by citing five reasons, including negatively affecting the neighborhood's aesthetics, not being an aesthetically pleasing structure and not presenting a need for the tower.
       T-Mobile countered by saying these reasons were devoid of specific evidence and unsupported.
       "The court agreed that none of the five reasons were supported by substantial evidence on the record and were essentially conclusory statements rooted solely in aesthetics, the Ĺ’not in my backyard' argument," Anderson wrote.
       She also addressed the amendments that ask providers to demonstrate that cable, fiber optics or other systems can't be used in lieu of a tower.
       Anderson said if a major gap in coverage is shown, the provider must show the necessity of its proposed means to address the gap by evaluating other means. They aren't, however, required to show there are no viable alternatives.
       Her letter addressed co-location on towers as well. Anderson said according to state law, co-location equipment may require a SLU if it will increase the tower's height by more than 20 feet or 10 percent of the original height, increases its width beyond the minimum, or if it increases the area of the compound to more than 2,500 square feet.
       Similarly, any wireless equipment that won't be on the original site may also be subject to SLU requests.
       The amendments encourage the development of towers on suitable township property, but Anderson suggested this be removed since it could violate due process.
       Planning Commissioner Chairman Mike Tremblay said he would like these items included if they don't conflict with township ordinances. He said he wants the commission to have a revised ordinance it can review and vote on at its April meeting.
       The amendments were inspired in part by Solvaris, Inc. installing a tower on township-owned property at 36 Mile and Hipp roads. The township required Solvairs to reduce the tower's height after measurements revealed it to be 207 feet, above the current limit of 175 feet.
       Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, said 200 feet is the optimal height to provide high-speed Internet to the area.
       "Without the 200 feet, we can't reach our repeater sites," he said. "Coverage would be significantly reduced if we tried to operate at 175 feet because 90 percent of the equipment was above the 175 mark."
       Andy Meinhard, a resident living near the Solvaris tower, said he couldn't reconcile having the tower installed and affecting the township's rural atmosphere.
       "I'm considering moving right now, not just because of the tower, but the general direction the various boards seem to be moving this township in," he said.

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