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GREENDALE - With a standing ovation, residents loudly applauded a village board decision to deny a controversial 100-foot cell tower in their neighborhood.

The question now is will the decision stand?

Following another round of public comments, in which residents were reluctant to adhere to the 30-minute time limit allotted, village trustees on Feb. 7 voted unanimously to oppose the proposed T-Mobile cell tower on property owned by St. Stephen the Martyr, 6101 S. 51st St.

The proposal originally came to light in September 2016, but the church was approached by T-Mobile more than a year and a half ago to lease a portion of the property at the back corner of the church lot, obstructed by trees.

The decision came after months of neighborhood objections, including boisterous public hearings in January and early February, about an issue that revolved around residents' concerns about health, safety and aesthetics against the need for cell towers and a state law which heavily favors their placement in most cases.

Denial reasons

The village board had three options: They could do nothing in which case the tower would be automatically approved due to state statutes, they could approve it, or they could deny it. Village Attorney John Macy said he had resolutions ready for whatever direction the board went.

The denial occurred in light of facts and circumstances as well as comments from a January public hearing.

Some of the reasoning cited in the resolution, read by Macy at the meeting, included the tower not meeting a minimum setback requirement on multiple sides and a prohibition of wireless communication towers that close to residential development.

The village also made a few requests to the applicant which weren’t answered, including one for a rendering or some image of the tower on the site and more explanation for why the applicant chose this site. The lack of information was also cited as reasons for denial.

The resolution also states the tower would "violate the character of the area."

The village board heard numerous residents speak for a half hour about many of the same concerns voiced in the past – primarily health concerns due to radiation and property values decreasing in the area – during the early February meeting.

One resident did speak in favor of the tower, citing it wouldn’t be any more harmful than being surrounded by devices themselves.

The church itself did not speak on its reasons for accepting a lease agreement. But Joe Konop, evangelism chairman at St. Stephen the Martyr, previously said the church was looking to allow the tower on their property to help fund activities such as mission trips, homeless shelters, and food pantries.

To be continued?

But, depending on what action T-Mobile takes, the fight may not be over.

Due to a state law change in 2013, which heavily restricted the grounds on which municipalities can deny the placement of cell towers, the issue could end up in court with a verdict favoring T-Mobile.

Limits were placed on the extent and manner a municipality can use zoning authority to regulate towers, according to Wisconsin State Statute 66.0404. The statute states towers can’t be restricted to certain zoning districts, unlike some other uses. The idea behind the law was the difficulty companies have had citing cell towers to effectively service customers.

Municipalities still need to do a zoning review and give a building permit, however.

Village officials did not address those points at the Feb. 7 meeting, but did cite such concerns at the January meeting. There was no official word about T-Mobile intentions, in this case.

Any legal action regarding the decision with ultimately come back to the village board for discussion.

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