City residents fight cell pole proposal to no avail

They say 150-foot structure on nearby town land would diminish property values but officials grant permit
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A crowd of about 20 residents of the Matthaeus Farms subdivision in the City of Port Washington — an upscale, green neighborhood on the city’s south side — last week asked the Town of Port Washington Plan Commission to turn down a request by US Cellular to erect a monopole near their homes.

In an hour-long public hearing Nov. 13, they told town officials that the monopole, which company officials said will be 3-1/2-feet at the base and 150-feet tall, will detract from their views and decrease their property values. They claimed emissions from the cellular tower could damage their health and worried that it could potentially fall on their houses.

A cell tower, they said, isn’t in keeping with the character of their environmentally sensitive subdivision.

“You’re encroaching on a very high density area,” one man said.

Brian Koslakiewicz, 1851 Farm View Dr., told the commission he paid more than $300,000 for his house and feared it would lose a significant amount of value if the monopole were located nearby.

“To have this come along now is kind of disgusting to me,” he said.  

“To put it within 100 feet of a new subdivision isn’t the best choice,” added Bob Arnold of Realty Executives Integrity.

Town officials, who unanimously approved the conditional use permit for the tower after the public hearing, noted that the cellular company had met all the requirements in the town codes, adding the state has taken away virtually all the power municipalities had to turn down requests to erect these towers.

“They limit what we have to say about this,” Town Chairman Jim Melichar said of the state. “The state changed the game on us.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that there are limits on what government can do.”

Plan Commission member Dale Noll added, “We need to follow the rules to make it fair for everybody.”

“We are limited on what we can do,” commission member Randy Noll said. “We can’t take aesthetics into consideration.”

During the public hearing, the residents asked town officials to delay a decision on the monopole until they get more information, including an environmental impact statement and a report on what other sites had been considered and why they were eliminated.

“This would at least let us know some research was done,” one resident said.

In September, US Cellular applied for a conditional use permit for the monopole, which it plans to erect on land owned by Peter Didier that is also home to Safe Storage storage sheds.

The property was the site of a cellular tower until about 10 years ago, and it is across the street from the Ozaukee County Justice Center, which houses 300-foot-tall radio towers.

Several residents asked why the cellular company could not locate its equipment on the county tower.

Dick Rogers, a US Cellular representative said that was the first thing the company did.

“We tried several times to work with the county,” he said, but county officials said they are in the midst of a radio system upgrade and wouldn’t know until after its testing was completed if they would be able to lease space on the tower. 

“They were going to let us know if there was space available,” Rogers said, but that hasn’t occurred and the company needs to move ahead with the project.

The company has unsuccessfully looked at other potential sites, he said, adding they need to be within a half-mile of the current site to fill in the company’s network.

“We put them where they’re most needed,” he said.

The residents questioned the need for the tower, saying they have adequate cellular coverage.

But Rogers noted that one of the first things people buying a house ask about is good wireless service, something that will be helped by the monopole.

Koslakiewicz questioned whether the pole will have a negative impact on residents’ health.

“The health and well being of others — you can’t put a price on someone’s life,” he said.

Greg Welton, 2563 Applewood Dr., said he grew up with a cellular tower in his backyard and it didn’t cause any health issues with the neighbors.

“My question is, is anyone in this room not using a cell phone?” Welton asked, adding the infrastructure is necessary in today’s world.

Koslakiewicz questioned what would happen if something happened and the pole fell onto someone’s house, potentially injuring or killing them.

If the pole were to fall, Rogers said, it would break in the center, which would keep it on the Didier property.

“What if it doesn’t?” Koslakiewicz asked. “It could be tragic.”

Jayne Czajkowski told the board she doesn’t want to have to look at the monopole every day, noting she paid a premium for a lot because the land behind it couldn’t be developed. The cell tower, she said, could decrease the value of her property by as much as 20%. 

“My view is going to be a cell tower,” she said.

But Melichar said that while residents are likely to notice the monopole initially, in time it will blend into the landscape and go virtually unnoticed.

“You’re kidding us, aren’t you?” Arnold asked.

Residents’ fears for their health might also be misplaced, Melichar added, saying, “I’m more worried about the high-tension lines there.”

Plan commission member Chuck Baranek said the issue the town faces is that the company has followed the rules and met the conditions the town is allowed to impose.

“If there’s nothing illegal being done, it’s going to get done,” he said. “That’s how we have to vote on it. It’s not if we like it or don’t like it.

“These people don’t say let’s put a tower where it’s going to upset most people. It’s based on need.”

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