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6/24/2016

Mundelein Struggles to Comprehend Wireless Coverage Needs

The following story appeared in the "Mundelein Review" June 24, 2016 as linked by the Chicago Tribune; http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/mundelein/news/ct-mun-cell-towers-forest-preserves-tl-0630-20160624-story.html

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is considering a request to build a (Central States Tower anchored by) Verizon Wireless cell tower at the Countryside Golf Club after a similar request to build the tower at a Mundelein church across the street was rejected.

Ty Kovach, executive director of the forest preserve, said the board of commissioners has a long-standing preference against cell towers because the structures go against the notion of conservation.

The board met on June 6 for an informational session on how cell towers operate and Kovach said the proposal will go before the land preservation and acquisition committee in either August or September.

"The board is listening and trying to understand more about the wireless coverage needs in the county," Kovach said. "We're very careful not to talk about a decision either way. I actually don't have a read on which way they're leaning, but they're definitely willing to learn."

Representatives from Central States Tower, a cell tower management firm, and its partner firm Dolan Realty Advisors on April 20 presented plans for an 80-foot tower designed to look like a flagpole outside The Chapel, 1966 W. Hawley St.

Mundelein's Plan and Zoning Commission voted against the proposal, saying it did not present enough evidence on personal safety considerations and property value impacts.

Village trustees formally rejected the project on June 13 in a 4-1 vote.

The proposal involved constructing the tower between the church and Route 60/83.

Officials for the project said Verizon is struggling with 911 calls and in-car service during peak hours. They say those concerns will worsen after a Route 60/83 widening attracts more traffic and growth at Mundelein High School creates more network use.

Central States Tower has not submitted a revised application to Mundelein as of June 21, according to Amanda Orenchuk, acting director of community development.

Kovach confirmed that Central States Tower has requested to lease forest preserve land directly across the street at the edge of a tree line that separates the golf course from Route 60/83.

The forest preserve board of commissioners has been adamantly opposed to numerous requests throughout the county in recent years, according to Kovach.

However, Kovach said before the decision is made he's asking the board to consider the changing times and a possible tech-heavy future where district property may be the only way to solve emergency communication issues.

"Whether we like it or not, there's a driving need for cell service," Kovach said. "That's the flip side, we all want to use this technology but we don't want what comes along with it."

One suggestion Kovach proposed was to consider a tower next to the district's maintenance complex on Chevy Chase Road, just under a mile west of The Chapel. He said the area already has pavement and is used for non-leisure activities.

Tim Marvin, a resident who lives behind The Chapel on Kings Way, was a vocal opponent of the project and rallied nearly 90 people to attend the Mundelein hearing. Marvin said he will likely attend forest preserve meetings to challenge the tower if it's being considered at the Hawley Street and Route 60/83 intersection.

However, Marvin said he would not object to a proposed tower at the forest preserve maintenance shed.

"I'm fine with it. If you draw a circle around (their maintenance building), that's as far away from any house as you can possibly be," Marvin said.

A map attached to the failed Mundelein proposal shows a circular area where Verizon claims a tower should be in order to resolve service problems. The Chapel is nearly at the center, while the forest preserve building on Chevy Chase Road is about a quarter-mile outside the radius.

"I still don't understand why we can't put it on the Mundelein water tower," Marvin said. "I think that would be the best place."

Mundelein Village Administrator John Lobaito later confirmed that Mundelein's zoning code requires cell phone companies to first consider existing structures, including government-owned water towers.

That specific water tower, according to Lobaito, was built before cell phones were booming in popularity and before the zoning requirement was approved. He said newer towers, like the one near Winchester and Midlothian roads, have extra space and reinforcement inside to support the mounting and hiding of telecommunication equipment.

The water tower on Route 60/83 was designed exclusively to contain and distribute water, Lobaito said, and adding other equipment would result in unsightly cords along the exterior, potential structural integrity issues and a possible loss in water delivery capabilities.

The forest preserve district does have three cell towers on other properties, according to Kovach. He said they were all built under previous ownership and their continued presence was negotiated into the purchase transactions.

Two towers are located at the Lakewood Forest Preserve along Route 176. Kovach said the property's previous owner is collecting revenue through the end of the leases, which terminate in 2023 and 2030.

The third cell tower is located in the Bluebird Meadow Forest Preserve along Route 59 near Lake Villa. Kovach said the cell phone company retained its right to operate through 2031 and the forest preserve is collecting $12,075 per year.

rkambic@pioneerlocal.com