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Posted: 07/30/14

AGREEABLE TERMS. Above, Matt Lauer, Bruce Township resident and owner of Solvaris, speaks with the Bruce Township Board of Trustees about amending the agreement on July 24 so he can provide wireless Internet services.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Bruce narrowly passes
Solvaris agreement

Observer Staff Writer
      The saga of Solvaris and Bruce Township may be settled following a compromise on their contract.
       The Bruce Township Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to amend the agreement with Solvaris to keep a 200-foot height limit, add three Wi-Fi hotspots and remove co-location fees.
       Clerk Susan Brockmann and Trustee Mark Falker were the dissenting votes at the July 24 special meeting.
       The agreement could mark the final chapter in a 16-month dispute between the township and Solvaris. The company is leasing township land at 36 Mile and Hipp roads in order to provide Internet services via a tower.
       Matt Lauer, owner of Solvaris, presented a final offer to the township during the public comment portion of the July 17 meeting. He suggested the elimination of hotspots, a 2.5 percent rent escalator and a $150 fee for co-location.
       However, at the July 24 meeting, Lauer said he spoke with board members and came up with an alternative proposal.
       "This is not an ultimatum-type proposal," he said. "I've taken feedback from anybody who was willing to meet with me and we've come up with a compromise."
       According to the amendment, Solvaris will provide three Wi-Fi hotspots to be located in the township, with potential locations including the Community Center on Morton Street, the Bruce Township Hall and a location outside of the township hall.
       Each of these would be provided at no charge to the township and would be in service on or before June 1, 2015, Aug, 1, 2015 and May 16, 2016. Lauer valued them each at $250 a month.
       The amendment will keep the tower's limit at 200 feet, the height Solvaris has requested in order to provide optimal coverage without building additional towers.
       "The (township's) master plan is designed to minimize the number of towers, it makes no sense to not allow a 200-foot tall tower when the master plan absolutely supports such an occurrence," Lauer said.
       In return, the township will not charge fees for granting co-location approval, though Solvaris will still need to seek approval for co-location. The rent escalator will remain at 5 percent, with the monthly rent at $200.
       Trustee Paul Okoniewski said the contract also gives the township an opportunity to review the agreement after the initial seven-year period before it renews for five consecutive five-year periods.
       "The township previously got in trouble doing that with the sewer where there are no checkpoints or no outs or options for review," he said.
       Regarding the co-location fees, he said companies similar to Solvaris charge $1,000 to $2,000 to apply for co-location. The township initially had a $1,000 co-location fee in the contract for cellular or cable providers.
       "Neither party is going to get 100 percent of what they want, but we're trying to do the best for the citizens of Bruce Township and allow for Matt to do what he needs to do," he said.
       The amendments are dependent on being reviewed by lawyers from both sides.
Measurements and fees

       Brockmann questioned how the township would be paying for the fees incurred during the process, such as attorney fees, extra meetings and measuring the tower again.
       Lauer cited Public Act 143, which puts a limit on how much can be charged for special land use requests. The law says the fee shall not exceed a local government's reasonable costs to review and process the application or $1,000, whichever is less.
       Treasurer Deborah Obrecht said there were talks of Solvaris reimbursing the township when it measured the tower earlier this year, so she and Supervisor Richard Cory would speak with Lauer on how to settle the matter.
       "We are not responsible for all the fees, and he is entitled to some credit and we're entitled to some reimbursement," she said.
       Brockmann disagreed, saying the township attorney agreed that the fees charged were fair. Brockmann also noted that a normal 1.5 percent fee was not charged to help keep costs down for Lauer.
       Lauer said the tower has been measured by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and was determined to be 200 feet. However, this was measured when it was partially dismantled.
       Cory said the FCC would be contacted, but board members said they would still measure it once it's reassembled.
       "We have engineers for a reason," Brockmann said.
       The township measured the tower in February and learned it was installed at 207 feet, above 175 feet. The board cited Lauer with multiple violations, and he lowered the tower to 160 feet to comply.

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