Verizon cell phone tower approved south of town
Despite hesitation, a 150-foot tall Verizon communications tower has been approved by the Sabetha City Commission. This decision came after a lengthy discussion held at the city commission meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, at Sabetha City Hall.
Present for the meeting were Mayor Doug Clark, Commissioners Norm Schmitt, Nick Aberle, Maridel Wittmer and Julie Burenheide, City Administrator Doug Allen, Assistant City Administrator Bill Shroyer, and City Clerk Steve Compo. Guests present were Police Chief Robert Wahwasuck, City Attorney Martin Mishler, Curtis Holland and Gary Scoby.
Holland, an attorney for Verizon, was present to support the company’s application for the proposed cell tower, which is to be located on Scoby’s land (.14 miles south of Oregon off of Sixth Street). The application was first taken to Sabetha’s Planning Commission, where it was approved unanimously, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.
Holland was present to answer any questions the commissioners had regarding the proposed project.
Aberle asked Mishler if it was correct that the Planning Commission “felt they couldn’t say no” to the project, because of certain Kansas statutes regarding property use applications.
“My concern here is that I feel like we have been admonished to not say certain things or not say certain things, like the rules have been written so that we necessarily shoot ourselves in the foot,” Aberle said, “And I want to be cognizant of that and careful, but at the same time I wonder what process there is for the people that live in that section of town that may or may not know anything about this, and yet here is another governing body with no expertise at all in Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) or anything like that. There are people around the world with issues with these things, but here we have five people that just got a unanimous recommendation from a Planning Commission that did not feel – from their minutes – I took it that they feel like could not do due diligence for fear of asking the wrong questions. Is that way out of left field?”
“Not way out, partially out,” Mishler said. “Over the years, there has grown concern that communications towers were being treated differently than other applications that came before governing bodies and more was being required to approve those applications than were other source of uses – proposed use of property. As I understand the statutes, it’s not prohibiting you from asking questions, but it is requiring that you treat equally those applications that you would other applications for uses of property. So, I would not say that the planning commission felt constrained about asking questions. They are trying to be sure it was a level playing field. If there were concerns about EMF, that certainly could be asked. That question was not asked.”
“My understanding is that the neighbors in the area were noticed,” Holland said. “There were two people who appeared at the planning commission the very first meeting and they weren’t concerned about EMF, they were concerned about the location of it. But during the second planning commission meeting, I believe I heard the commissioners say they were okay with the location of it. They weren’t bothered by it. They were in support of enhancing the communication system in the city and I didn’t get the sense that they felt constrained by [Kansas] statutes. The EMF issue that you mentioned, that is really a federal issue. The federal statute governing wireless communications facilities and placement of these kinds of structures, prohibits communities from denying an application for a facility on the basis that there is fear or concern about EMF or other health reasons. That is a federal statutory regulation, not Kansas.”
Aberle questioned why this 150-foot tall tower was “more effective” than the 300-foot tall tower located north of Sabetha.
“Is it the proximity to town?” Aberle asked. “Is town the dead spot?”
“So it’s not necessarily a dead spot. We have service here,” Holland said. “It’s a capacity issue. People are looking at data on there phones, and the usage of data is what is causing the need for more facilities. Data usage is just expanding and that is what is killing these networks.”
“Why did you pick this location?” Burenheide said. “There weren’t any other places outside of city limits.”
“It’s partly a residential area, but it’s mostly in an undeveloped ag area on the south end of town,” Holland said. “It’s a determination by the engineers as the location they would need to enhance and provide the best service for their customers.”
“What do you anticipate [with this tower] the effect on the data?” Aberle said.
“I don’t know if I can quantify it, but it will be substantially better than what you have now,” Holland said. “You will have less buffering.”
Before a motion was made, Mishler said the commission should not be making a judgment on where the tower should go. They should, however, be making a judgment on if the tower comply with the City’s zoning ordinance, which is does according to Mishler.
“That should really end the discussion, if it is an appropriate use, if it complies with our ordinance,” Mishler said.
Clark asked if anyone wanted to make a motion to approve the Verizon application and no one spoke up. When no one spoke up, Clark asked Mishler what happens if no one makes a motion.
“You have to make a decision,” Mishler said.
“So if we don’t have a decision that is a motion not to approve it?” Clark said.
“Are we going to be in big trouble?” Burenheide said.
“We are,” Mishler said.
Clark made a motion to approve it and Wittmer seconded it saying she didn’t want to be in trouble. Clark asked if there was any more discussion.
“I want you to define what trouble that is,” Aberle said.
“Mr. Holland’s client would instruct him to file a lawsuit and tell us to comply with our ordinance and do what we are supposed to do,” Mishler said. “It [court] would be costly.”
“So, do you guys want to defend a lawsuit that we are going to lose,” Clark said.
“We haven’t threatened anyone,” Holland said. “We don’t do business that way. We don’t threaten communities.”
“You asked what the trouble is and that’s what I am telling you,” Mishler said.
“You’re saying that if we turn this down, we’re likely to end up in court,” Schmitt said.
“Yes,” Mishler said.
The motion passed 5-0 to approve the application.
The Sabetha Police Department (SPD) received eight dog calls since Jan. 6. Those calls included: two calls about dogs running loose but they could not be located by city personnel; one call regarding dog running loose, which was unable to be caught and a citation was issued; one call about dogs getting into a fight and both dogs were on leashes but got away from the owners; three dogs running loose, that escaped a fenced property and were caught by the owner; one call about a dog running loose and was dragging a chain. That dog was caught and impounded.
318 N. Ninth: Condemned structure, ready for bids to tear down.
1322 Roosevelt: Junk vehicle, unfit structure, maintenance and repair. Neighbor-2-Neighbor is still assessing the candidacy of this property. Ready for resolution and abatement.
523 N. 14th: Junk vehicle, ready for resolution and abatement.
318 S. 5th (lots 5, 6 and 7), 121 S. Fifth, 401 Ohio, 411 S. Eighth: Junk vehicles, abated by owner
COVID safety measures are still prevalent. The officer out for medical reasons is back to work. The SPD continues to do crossing guard duty at the school.
Several internet fraud cases have occupied much of SPD’s time. They also have taken many calls about unemployment fraud.
Wahwasuck reported that masks were a big talk around town with the city and the SPD mildly in the “spotlight.” Wahwasuck said they responded to and dealt with any complaint made, even if a citation was not needed to resolve the problem.
Also at the meeting:
The commissioners approved the following: minutes from the Jan. 11 and Feb. 1 meetings, Wage Resolution 2021-01 approving Amber Roberts as a part-time dispatcher, and Nancy Flentie to take the place of Brent Scott on the library board.
The commissioners also approved Ordinance No. 1564, which approves the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Revolving Loan Amendment for the water plant. See the Legal on Page 7 of this week’s Herald. Allen said the final walk-through at the water plant is scheduled for Feb. 25.
The commissioners will meet again at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, at Sabetha City Hall.