Towering issue in Greenfield lays low for now

Panel puts off debate of residential cell tower while AT&T completes application

Nov. 19, 2013

Greenfield — A Plan Commission discussion of a controversial cellphone tower proposed for a residential neighborhood will have to wait for another day.

The panel had to be put off the debate last week because the AT&T application for the tower was not complete. A formal public hearing will be scheduled for a later date, but the commission may again take up the discussion on Dec. 10, assuming the application is complete.

The proposal involves a 70-foot tower at 4309 W. Grange Ave. AT&T has said it wants to erect the tower because the area has no or weak reception for its cellphone network.

Typically, cellphone towers are not erected within residentially zoned areas, but this one would be on the property of a neighborhood tavern, which has commercial zoning.

Also, working against neighbors' interests is a new state law which dictates that the Common Council cannot deny the proposed tower based solely on aesthetics. It can only deny requests due to health or safety concerns.

"In the old days, this probably would have been a slam dunk," said Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke, noting that a 70-foot tower would simply have been viewed as a poor fit in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Unsafe margin?

On the other hand, city staff does see a potential safety concern, at least for one home, Community Development Director Chuck Erickson wrote in a background memo to the Plan Commission. The home 4325 W. Grange Ave., west of the proposed tower site, would be at risk if the tower collapses.

Robert Beacom, who engineered the proposed tower, wrote to the city that the tower would be designed to fold onto itself in high winds, But he acknowledged that the top part of the tower could conceivably become detached and fall up to 40 feet from the tower.

Erickson noted that, under that scenario, the tower component could land within 12 feet of the house to the west. In codes adopted more than 15 years ago, the city calls for a 25-foot safety buffer.

Therefore, the proposed tower doesn't meet city setback requirements, Erickson wrote.

He also suggested to the Plan Commission that the city have an outside consultant confirm the fall zone and at AT&T's expense.

The tower's design, itself a matter of confusion, would be a factor in that fall zone concern, Erickson said Tuesday.

There have been conflicting documentation about what the tower would look like. The partial plans submitted to the city show a 70-foot monopole topped by an 8-foot antenna, but neighbors received packets of information describing the proposed structure as a more appealing clock tower.

Either way, the city would have to determine which design is safer, Erickson said.

Seeking alternatives

To try to avoid the whole question, the city is working on finding an alternate site for the tower, but has not had luck so far, Neitzke said.

Officials asked if the cellphone equipment could be mounted on Milwaukee's water pumping station on 43rd Street. But that idea has generated concerns about security, Neitzke said.

The city also asked about mounting antennas on Elmdale Elementary School, but the schools were too involved with settling in with a new superintendent when the idea was first raised, he said.

Four residents living near the proposed site came to last week's Plan Commission meeting to object to the more than 70-foot tower and said they will be back when the commission picks up the discussion again.

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