A controversial telecommunications tower in the town of Holland was voted down Monday, but it’s not out yet.
The La Crosse County Board’s Planning, Resources and Development Committee voted 4-2 against approval of a conditional-use permit for a 195-foot tower at W7520 Old Hwy. NA, west of Hwy. 35. The vote came a month after the committee decided to delay a decision on the proposal by Green Bay-based Bug Tussel Wireless.
The full county board has the final say on the tower’s permit, but some would argue the board really doesn’t have a say because of state-imposed restrictions on local control over location of telecommunications towers.
Under regulations included in the state’s 2013 budget bill, local governments can no longer deny tower permits solely for aesthetic reasons, limit the height of towers to under 200 feet, or require that antennas and structures be placed on public property, such as water towers.
If the full county board follows the committee’s example and votes to deny a permit for the tower when it meets March 16, Bug Tussel can appeal that decision in circuit court. “The likelihood is they (Bug Tussel) would win that appeal,” said county planner Charlie Handy.
People who live on Huntington Street, a subdivision just south of Holmen’s Prairie View Elementary and less than a quarter mile north of the tower site, have been vocal in opposition to the tower since it was first proposed in November. Residents have cited concerns about safety, aesthetics and property values, arguing there isn’t a need for the tower as there is already a tower a quarter mile west of the proposed tower.
In addition, the Holland Town Board went on record at its February meeting opposing the tower, and the village of Holmen also has raised objections.
“If they can’t come to us and have us fight for something we believe in, who else is going to do it,” said county board member Tina Wehrs, who chairs the PRD committee. “Realistically, I don’t know if we can expect to win (an appeal), but we’re taking a stand. We just felt it was the right thing to do.”
Board member Matt Nikolay, the committee’s vice chair, agreed that the committee needed to consider the public’s concerns. “My issue is the lack of public support for this project,” he said. “Just about any other issue that comes before this committee that does not have local support is denied.”
Patrick Scheller and Dave Holtze also voted to deny the permit.
Rejecting the permit has its risks, though. If the county approves a permit, it can include some conditions, such as requiring a bond to ensure that when the tower is no longer in use that it will be properly removed.
Committee members Jerome Gundersen and Dan Hesse voted against denying the permit, in part because of that concern.
Gundersen said he knows someone who lives on Huntington Street who has no problem with the tower, and he argued that just because people who didn’t oppose the tower didn’t come to the public hearings doesn’t mean that they should be discounted.
“I believe this is something that is out of our hands and we should support it,” Gundersen said. “Cell towers are a fact of life. … This is a business. They deserve a chance to try to do business.”