NEW ULM A proposal to build a Verizon 4G cell phone tower on Martin Luther College (MLC) campus met intense opposition from affected homeowners Thursday during a public informational meeting.
Last year the New Ulm Public Utilities proposed building a new water tower in Nehls Park to replace the failing Hermann Heights water tower, which hosts cell service relays for Verizon Wireless, (T-Mobile and AT&T). Dan Dean, site development consultant for Verizon, said Verizon's analysis of moving its antenna to the Nehls Park site would duplicate coverage with an existing antenna at the nearby golf course while leaving a "hole," or area more prone to dropped and missed calls.
Verizon decided to build a cell phone tower and approached MLC to build on its campus after being turned down at other sites that met the line-of-sight and height requirements, such as the New Ulm Medical Center.
MLC turned down two potential campus sites farther from residences because they were either in the way of a planned field house or aesthetically at odds with the campus chapel.
The proposal presented the tower as the "mono-pole" design, or a simple cylinder metal pole with equipment on top, compared to the "mono-pine," which looks like a pine tree. The proposed tower would be 120 feet tall with an additional 9-foot lightning rod on top. A "mono-pine" tower at the same location would be approximately 5 to 10 feet taller.
More than 20 residents within 350 feet of the proposed site expressed opposition to the plan. They cited devaluation of property values, an unpleasant design and concerns the tower would create health problems.
Dean said the "mono-pole" design was picked because it would be less obvious than the other design. In addition, the plan calls for painting the tower to blend in with trees in the area. Residents adamantly objected, saying it was impossible with the tower's height for it to not stand out. Furthermore, they objected to a tower all together, claiming it would inherently be an "eyesore" regardless of its height or design.
Dean said there were no correlated facts showing a cell tower would devalue their property values, particularly given the location of this proposed tower. The homeowners rejected this assessment, repeatedly saying their major concern is the higher-valued homes in the area will be harder to sell in the future even if Dean is correct.
Residents also expressed concerns the tower would be further made unattractive if Verizon rented out relay space to other carriers. Dean said renting to other carriers on the tower is possible, but it would like only be up to one other carrier.
Dean said there are no major health concerns that have been shown with the radio towers. Residents responded with skepticism, particularly because informational materials on the towers used data from 1996 and because radio signals have more strength now. Steven Thiesfeldt, vice president of admissions with MLC, said the college had no concerns about health risks and had only entertained the idea of the cell phone tower if safety was not an issue.
Dean said he would take the comments to Verizon for serious consideration of a different approach for establishing a tower on the MLC campus that would not draw the ire of residents. He said Verizon will take another look at the "mono-pine" design because residents seemed more receptive to it. He said the new plan would likely be different enough to warrant holding another public informational meeting.
Thiesfeldt said the college will assess the homeowners' concerns first and will not proceed with a plan if there are serious objections to Verizon's final proposal.
Verizon currently pays the City an estimated $14,000 per year to place a relay on the Hermann Heights site. Thiesfeldt said a MLC site would have Verizon rent out the land for its tower at a much cheaper cost on campus. The construction of the tower is expected to cost Verizon around $500,000.
Besides any further public meetings, the Verizon tower will eventually proceed by being presented to the New Ulm Planning Commission for a Conditional Use Permit application, during which public comment will be possible. The proposal would then proceed to the New Ulm City Council for final approval.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)