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Posted: 06/11/14

Solvaris, Bruce disagree
on tower co-location fees

Observer Staff Writer
      Disputes continue on a lease agreement between an Internet provider and Bruce Township despite agreeing on a 200-foot tower height.
       At a special meeting held June 5, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change a lease agreement with Solvaris, Inc. to permit a 200-foot wireless Internet tower on township land.
       The changes, though, included what Solvaris considers an open-ended clause regarding co-locations fees, while officials say it shouldn't prevent Internet services from starting.
       The lease changes followed a 5-0 vote to amend the township's wireless tower ordinance to permit towers up to 200 feet tall through the Special Land Use (SLU) process.
       Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, has vied for a 200-foot tower on land he is leasing at 36 Mile and Hipp roads. After legal battles and multiple discussions during the past year, it seemed as if he and the township had came to an agreement.
       The township considered two versions of a new lease. Both included a change to the height from 175 feet to 200, but the second version added a provision saying appropriate fees for companies co-locating on the tower would be decided when it occurs.
       Previous versions of the lease included fees like $400 per month for wireless Internet co-locators and $1,000 a month for those providing cellular or cable service. Christine Anderson, township attorney, said no specific fee amounts were placed in the new lease since potential co-locators could be a large company or a smaller provider.
       Aside a question from a resident, no discussions on the lease took place during the meeting and the second version was accepted. Afterwards, however, Lauer and township officials aren't seeing eye-to-eye on co-location.
       Lauer said he didn't like the open-ended nature the new lease agreement leaves him for co-locations.
       "I don't know when a co-locator will land, but when one does I don't want to be in front of the board fighting again, I just want it cut-and-dry," he said.
       He said the township's master plan aims to minimize towers through co-location, so he doesn't believe "financial strings" should be tied to the new height limit.
       Clerk Susan Brockmann said the new lease means the township has determination over co-location, which would include any fees.
       "It just says it could be associated with a fee," she said. "This should not prevent him in any way with providing the basic Internet service he promised those residents."
       Brockmann said the township previously approved of Michigan-based co-locating on the tower at no charge to provide the Internet service. She said unless Lauer signs the agreement, he cannot go above the 175 foot limit.
       "I think we've done everything in our power to provide Solvaris the ability to provide Internet to residents at a reasonable cost," she said.
       Supervisor Richard Cory said the co-location is a sticking point, but he wants to meet with Lauer to hammer out the details.
       "He is a Bruce Township guy, he has put up with a lot of delays, and the government process was slow," he said.
       Brockmann said the ordinance becomes effective eight days after it's published. When this occurs, the township will require SLU for towers not exceeding 200 feet in limited sections of areas zoned rural suburban, light manufacturing and planned industrial. Towers 175 feet or less are permitted on property owned by the township without a SLU.
       Lauer said he hopes to come to an agreement with the township on items like monthly rent, the rent escalator and his offering two Wi-Fi hotspots.
       "The reason we negotiated for hotspots is because we took co-location rental out of the equation," he said.
       Despite the disagreements, he expressed gratitude for the township permitting the 200-foot height.
       "It's progress, but I think we all need to come to an agreement," he said.
       Anderson said since Lauer's SLU was approved less than a year ago, the township would amend his SLU request to permit the new height instead of going through the process again.
       "If it had been, say, two or three years, or if a development had gone in or something changed substantially and you needed the Planning Commission to analyze it, then yes, it'd have to go back through the whole process," she said.
       Solvaris and the township locked horns when Lauer appealed a decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals to deny a height variance. He dropped the appeal when the township discovered his tower was 207 feet tall after it was installed in December, and he subsequently lowered it to 160 feet.
       Prior to the ordinance changes, towers were only allowed to be 175 feet tall unless a variance was granted.

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