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Mequon — Citing offset requirements and an incomplete application, the Mequon Plan Commission has rejected a proposal for a cell tower on Chapel Hill Road.

Commissioners voted 5-1 against the proposal for 6131 W. Chapel Hill Road; they also said financial hardship numbers needed to be looked into.

Alderman Robert Strzelczyk said he felt this proposal was taking advantage of how the law is written and not using it in the way it’s meant.

“In the spirit of the law, I don’t feel that a cell tower is appropriate in a platted subdivision,” he said. “I can’t support it.”

State Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) stepped into the discussion at the Jan. 11 plan commission meeting, saying this proposal had caused a lot of people in the area to be upset.

Ott said he spoke with two T-Mobile representatives who said they were interested in using the Fromm Foods tower but said negotiations weren’t working out financially. He also stated he had discussions with the owner of Fromm Foods, who said they haven’t been contacted by T-Mobile.

Strzelczyk said he, too, spoke with the owner of Fromm Foods and confirmed he’d never spoken to T-Mobile about this but is willing.

Derek McGrew, representing Parallel Infrastructure, which would build the tower, and T-Mobile, said talks had occurred more than a year and a half ago before he got involved. He said it made more financial sense for them to build the tower versus the current cost of being on the Fromm tower.

However, Ott said the numbers he had didn’t sync with those being discussed.

McGrew said the financial discrepancies were due to some internally known financial factors not included in the numbers.

Limited control

One of the biggest driving forces behind the tower proposal is a law passed in 2013 that reduces the regulatory power of municipalities when it comes to cell phone towers. Because of this, even with the denial by the commission, there could be future issues.

Ott said he spoke with one of the legislators who helped enact the law, which was created because some municipalities were making it difficult for cell phone towers to be placed within. He said, on one hand, there’s the demand for better service, but in some areas, providers were “being held hostage to ridiculous demands.”

Ott said that by the letter of the law, providers can install cell phone towers in people’s backyards. However, the spirit of the law was not to allow providers to put them there and that he hasn’t talked with one legislator that thinks it’s a good idea.

“Obviously this is something the legislature is going to have to address,” Ott said.

Changing zoning

Attempting to exhibit some control, commissioners voted Dec. 16 to adopt a new zoning rule that called for all non-residential structures in residential areas to have a one-to-one ratio offset; being as far from residential structures as they are tall.

The cell tower is planned to be 195 feet tall, meaning it could not be built in the location where it has been proposed. This new zoning proposal was adopted by the common council Jan. 10.

However, McGrew, after talking with a company attorney, said T-Mobile had vested rights for the location and that how the law read when the application was submitted should be what’s used, not something passed after the application was submitted.

Mayor Dan Abendroth disagreed, saying you have to acquire something to get vested rights and that an application doesn’t automatically give someone such rights.

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