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Published: Wednesday, 7/30/2008

Maumee school board rejects plan for cell tower

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's back to square one for a telecommunications company that wants to locate a cell phone tower at Maumee High School.

The board of education last week rejected T-Mobile USA Inc.'s revised plan for a pole at the north end of the stadium after hearing again from a succession of neighborhood residents that the tower would be an eyesore and potential safety hazard.

This means the telecom firm will pursue its original plan for a tower between the high school stadium and track to the north.

T-Mobile will have to start over again with Maumee's building and zoning department and planning commission, said Bruce Wholf, the city's building and zoning inspector.

The company will be working on a tight schedule.

The firm's option-to-lease with the school district expires Oct. 30, and the board of education is under no obligation to extend it if approval from the city is not granted by then.

Heidi Zimmer, a T-Mobile project manager, said the firm was intent on pursuing its first plan.

"Hopefully, we can make this a win-win," she said by telephone from her Detroit-area office.

At the meeting last week, Wallace Haley, an attorney for T-Mobile, sought authorization from the board to go to the planning commission for a special use permit for the new design and location, which would make the tower less visually obtrusive.

The planning commission in May decided it would wait to approve or deny the permit until after the school board accepted the new plan.

The new plan was intended to allay the concerns of nearby residents, but did nothing of the sort.

The school board vote was 3-2 against it. Stephanie Piechowiak, Janet Wolff, and Sylvia Washburn voted no; the yes votes were cast by Glenn Rambo and Bob Righi.

After the vote, Mrs. Piechowiak, the board president, said the matter now was in the hands of the city. "We're hoping they'll do what's in the best interests of citizens," she said.

T-Mobile required a special use permit because the area zoning is R-2, single family residential. It was successful in its request to Maumee's Administrative Board of Appeals for a variance to allow the pole a shortened setback of 217 feet from the nearest residential building.

The new plan called for a 150-foot tower that would replace a 110-foot-tall stadium light standard. The stadium light would be reattached to the new tower at its current height, and the antennas would be inside the pole. The pole would house T-Mobile's antennas and those of two other carriers.

Beneath it would be an 8-foot-high masonry enclosure with wood gates to conceal the equipment.

T-Mobile would make annual lease payments of about $25,000 to the school district.

Company representatives will have to return to the planning commission with another request for a special use permit for its original plan. Aug. 25 is the earliest date it could do so, Mr. Wholf said.

The school board vote nixed a revised plan that everybody agreed was esthetically superior to the original. But neighborhood residents at the meeting were as adamant in their opposition as ever.

They made clear they were opposed to any cell phone tower at the stadium. They expressed worry about declining property values, and presented board members with a petition containing 215 signatures of Maumee residents opposed to the tower.

Don Keller of Village Trail Drive contended that the tower would "ruin the value of my property. It's got to be stopped before it gets put in."

Mr. Haley explained that a study in Bloomfield Township, Mich., found no decline in property values as a result of cell phone towers.

Others worried about the tower falling down. Mr. Haley said "a cataclysmic weather event" would be required to topple one and that cell phone towers were designed to collapse in segments as a safety precaution.

Before the vote, Mr. Rambo, an attorney, noted that the lease terms had already been negotiated for the original T-Mobile plan.

This was not the case, however, with the revised plan.

"But we may not be able to negotiate a lease," he said.

Ms. Zimmer said T-Mobile still wanted to locate at the high school.

"The revenue benefits the community," she said.



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