Township approves one variance, denies another for new tower

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 9/13/00.

A variance request by Nextel Communications for a new tower in Paynesville Township ran into a snag at a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 6.

Debbie Weiss, who works for a consulting company that is coordinating the project for Nextel, informed the board that the company needed a 300-foot tower to hook up with a series of towers the company has in Stearns and Meeker counties.

Weiss also said that the company had investigated co-locating its equipment on another tower, but could find no suitable host in the area.

The board, which approved a 340-foot tower in the township last spring, had no problem with the height. The proposed building site, on property along 253rd Avenue, was only 245-feet from the center of the roadway. The township ordinance requires a setback from the road right-of-way equal to the height of the tower.

Weiss told the board that she would need to get a variance from Stearns County for this setback as well. She said the county officials she talked with to prepare her variance request didn't have a problem, because the tower is designed to collapse on itself, and not fall in a straight line. She had a letter from the contractor that assured that the tower would fall within 70 percent of its height, or 210 feet.

The county has a provision in its ordinance to allow for lessened setbacks with towers that fall onto themselves like that. But the township does not.

The question then became whether the tower location could be moved further back from the road.

Weiss argued that the current proposal was the optimum location for the base of the tower on several counts.

First, the new tower would replace a existing tower owned by Allen Hertzberg. They plan to move his equipment to the new tower and use the existing foundation for a new building to house equipment. Hertzberg's tower is closer to the road, and moving the tower further back would increase the distance between the antennas and the equipment, with negative effects.

Second, at the proposed location, the current guyed anchors could be kept. Moving the tower back would cause these anchor sites to be moved. They would have to be moved into an adjacent field to provide support. The landowners would prefer not to have to farm around the anchors, Weiss told the board.

Third, an elevation drop behind the proposed location would mean that a taller tower would be necessary.

After almost an hour of discussion with Weiss, the board warned Weiss that the current plan was still likely to fail. The township uses a list of criteria to decide on variances. This criteria includes six questions like whether the problem stems from characteristics unique to the property and whether the request is financially motivated.

With plenty of land to move the tower away from the road, the supervisors felt these criteria hadn't been met.

The supervisors did adjourn their meeting in order to make an inspection of the site with Weiss the following morning.

The board did grant a variance on the height of the tower, up to a maximum of 320 feet. But they did not grant a variance on the setbacks to the road right-of-way, stipulating that the tower must be setback a distance equal to its height.

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