This story first appeared in the Appleton Fox Cities Post-Crescent, December 22, 2017.
NEENAH – Forced by a court order, the Common Council unanimously approved a special-use permit Wednesday for the construction of a 105-foot cellphone tower at 512 S. Commercial St.
Verizon Wireless and Central States Tower applied for the permit earlier this year, but the council denied it on a 7-1 vote.
The applicants argued the council’s denial violated state law. They took Neenah to court and won.
Rodney Carter, an attorney for the applicants, sent a letter to City Attorney Jim Godlewski on Dec. 12 demanding the city issue the permit as ordered by Winnebago County Judge Daniel Bissett.
Carter said the list of conditions tied to the permit by the Plan Commission were surrendered when the city lost the court case. The conditions concerned expansion, landscaping and lighting.
“The Common Council forfeited its right to impose additional conditions on the SUP (special-use permit) when it elected to deny the SUP,” Carter wrote.
In a deal negotiated by Godlewski, Verizon Wireless and Central States Tower ultimately agreed to the conditions for landscaping and lighting in exchange for access to the site from Maple Street, something the city had denied earlier.
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The tower is designed to fill a void in cellphone coverage.
Godlewski told the council he thinks the applicants want to begin construction “relatively soon.”
A state statute adopted as part of the 2013 budget bill limits the ability of municipalities to reject the siting of a cell tower based on aesthetics, height or the suitability of another location. The denial of a permit must include “substantial evidence which supports the decision.”
The council cited two reasons for the denial: that the cell tower is incompatible with the objectives of a 1991 South Commercial Street corridor study, and that the tower would diminish redevelopment opportunities for the remainder of the property, which is zoned for commercial use.
Bissett deemed the reasons speculative, not substantial evidence, Godlewski said.
Alderman Christopher Kunz decried the loss of local control over the siting of cell towers.
“It’s just sad, I guess,” Kunz said.