A conditional use permit (CUP) application to construct a 175-foot cell phone tower was denied by the Spring Grove City Council on Oct. 1, following a public hearing on the matter.

The hearing featured Curt Walter of Buell Consulting Inc. of Rochester, who appeared on behalf of Verizon Wireless. Councilman Robert Vogel brought members up to speed on the permit, since he also sits on the Spring Grove Planning Commission, which has been reviewing the CUP.

Vogel said that the monopole structure would go up at 210 2nd Ave. NW, which he described as the approximate site of a house that was torn down last year on land owned by Farmers Co-Op Elevator.

"We wanted to schedule the public hearing even if we were not yet finished with the actual deliberations," Vogel added, "and in fact, we are not. But as the report points out, the applicant has submitted all of the routine documentation that is required by the ordinances. The only thing that is outstanding is the part of the code that deals with the visual impacts of the tower."

Vogel said that the tower's "adverse impact" on the downtown view and it's close proximity to historic Ellingson grain elevators prompted planning commission members to ask that the site be shifted to the northern edge of the zoning district. That would move the tower about 150 feet.

"Verizon is looking at this particular project because we're bringing the new 4G LTE technology into town..." Walter reported. "We have an existing site on your water tower right now, (but) if we add the LTE equipment to that, it's just too much weight. It would be 2,000 to 3,000 pounds more, and the water tower would not be able to handle that."

"We're looking at this particular location because it's behind some trees, in a bit of an agriculturally-used area, right next to the commercial elevators, which are a couple of taller structures. With a pretty close proximity to the existing sites on the water tower, coverage will be consistent with what's currently there. If we go east out of town, or west out of town, the coverage is a little different."

"I don't think it belongs in town, period." Councilmember Nancy Nelson said.

Walter said that Verizon is willing to shift the site 150 feet north, but when several persons suggested moving the tower to the EDA-owned Spring Grove Commercial Park, he said, "Verizon wouldn't be interested in that... Their coverage is now on your water tower. If it (the Commercial Park) is on the east side of town, we're talking several thousand feet away. It would change the coverage area. If we did anything, we'd probably just go straight north, but I'm not the one that makes that decision."

"There's only a handful of sites within the city where this would be allowed," Vogel stated. Those are zoned as the "public/open district." Letters from residents received prior to the hearing mostly revolved around the "visual effect," of the tower, but also included at least one missive to council members voicing concerns over electronic emissions, he added.

Walter said that he believed electromagnetic radiation would not present a health issue. "I am not an attorney, and I do not know the law inside and out, but I do know that the Telecommunications Act specifically prohibits... any municipality denying anything for these communications towers or locations due to health reasons."

Nelson asked if the tower could interfere with 800MHZ emergency frequencies. Walter stated that the frequencies that Verizon is licensed to use by the federal government will not interfere with those signals.

Resident Tammy Stadtler asked if noise would be given off. Walter said there would be none.

When asked about the dangers presented from a falling monopole tower, Walter said "If it should ever fail, these monopoles are designed to collapse on themselves like a straw."

When asked about lights, he said the FAA would not require those on a 175-foot tower.

"I think that something that obtrusive to the Spring Grove skyline should at least be on city property so the taxpayers can benefit from any financial rewards," resident Steve Kemp said.

"I'm against the location," resident JC Nerstad said. "Our community will have to grow. Over the next 50 to 100 years, one of the prime real estates to grow in is right up in that area, for commercial use. If we're going to be working around structures such as this, you'd be hard-pressed to find a lot of people who would like to use that as their backdrop."

Walter also disputed that reason for denial, citing anecdotal evidence from towns of various sizes in the region that have allowed cell towers near both commercial and residential developments.

After the hearing closed, Nelson asked those who expressed opposition to the site if moving it 150 feet north would make any difference to them. No one said it would. She then made a motion to deny the CUP, "Because it is not appropriate for that particular location, at least at this point, until we have completed our planning... of where all of the development is going to occur. We would not want it in an area that we plan to redevelop."

"The planning commission didn't want to recommend approval or denial based on incomplete information," Vogel argued. "We feel our job is to gather (information on) everything... There was a consensus that moving the structure as far north as it could go and stay within that public/open zoning district would mitigate those (visual) effects. There's no way to hide this thing, but we felt that it was just a little too centrally located. We thought rather than just rejecting it without even a visual representation of what it would look like (to the north) just didn't seem fair."

"I think a lot of this discussion should have been right at the council table on anything this major," Nelson said. Vogel replied that the council had everything that the planning commission saw. "We're not done with our part of the process," he added.

Mayor Bruce Poole seconded the motion. He and Nelson voted to deny the CUP. Vogel and Councilmember Lorilyn Dehning voted "no." Councilmember Rachel Olerud then cast the decisive ballot.

Liquor Store debated

Council members discussed either changing the municipal liquor store to off-sale only, selling it, or keeping the establishment as is. Vogel said "The only reason it exists is to generate a revenue stream to be spent on public things." He added that in his opinion the store is actually operating in the red. Other members disagreed, stating that the business may not be making a large profit, but is doing better than breaking even.

Vogel made a motion to close The Corner Store on Dec. 31 and offer the property for sale. There was no second.

The jobs that the business provides, as well as charitable gambling income, were cited by Dehning as worthwhile.

Nelson moved to leave the municipal liquor store as is until January. It passed with a single "no" vote from Vogel.

Other news:

Poole asked that Main Street homeowners and businesses submit any problems they have with the ongoing construction project to city hall. "If you have a basement on Main Street that's leaking, we need to know about it," he said, "or, for example, if you have a sidewalk that doesn't match up, we need to know. We will have to present a punch list to (engineering firm) WHKS on this project." Prospective fixes need to get on the list before the city signs off on the project.

A permit for Vernee Dahlberg to build a garage addition was approved with two conditions. The applicant is asked to provide documentation that demonstrates that the minimum 12-foot setback requirement is met. Secondly, the city's public works director will need to confirm that the project will not interfere with any public utilities.

A permit for Spring Grove Communications to expand a parking lot was tabled until the company notifies a neighboring landowner of plans and solicits their opinion. In addition, the council asked for a "better map" showing where the entrances will be and how the striping for parking will be laid out.

City Attorney Joe Hammell reported that legal proceedings against pool management firm USA Pools will require the use of a process server, since the company has refused delivery of certified letters. Those legal costs will be added to claims that the city has against the company. Hammell added that the contract that USA Pools has with the city included an automatic renewal clause, but "I want to make sure that it's clear that they are not to be back here next year."

Lastly, members voted to approve up to $1,000 in funds to produce a digital map of the city's zoning districts. Vogel requested that Widseth Smith Nolting be awarded the job, which will be to produce a map that city planners will be able to revise on their own.