AT&T cell tower

The staff report from the July 24 Middleton/Westport Joint Zoning Committee shows an aerial view of AT&T’s proposed cell-tower location, south of Hwy. K, just inside the Middleton ETZ.

AT&T has announced plans to build a cell tower in Westport, next to the Yahara Materials site. It would stand 196 feet tall, and provide coverage to nearly a 5-mile area.

The project was discussed by the town’s plan commission last month, during an initial consult.

Town Administrator Tom Wilson summarized the service provider’s proposal and cited a zoning issue that would need to be addressed in order for the project to move forward.

“ATT wants to place a cell tower of a total height with antennae of about 200 feet within a 65-foot square area on land between two farm and storage buildings along CTH K,” Wilson stated. “The land is zoned County A-1 Exclusive, which does not provide for this use.”

The parcel has been zoned an agricultural district, intended for farmland preservation. Therefore, the proposed site would need to be rezoned to allow for commercial usage.

Because the land lies in the Middleton ETZ, that would require the City of Middleton’s approval.

Due to federal regulations, however, Wilson said the municipality has little choice but to allow it. The city could only request that the company make its tower as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

“There are federal laws on the location of towers which make it very difficult for communities to say no to their location,” Wilson stated, “but (those communities) can work to have them look appropriate for the area.”

The issue came before the Middleton/Westport Joint Zoning Committee last week, during the committee’s initial consultation with AT&T representatives regarding the project.

Several members asked about the possibility of collocation on a nearby tower, instead.

Less than a quarter mile away from the proposed site is an existing cell tower, one pointed out. She asked if it would be possible to join that tower, rather than build a brand new one so close.

“There is another tower very nearby,” she said. “Could we utilize the existing tower rather than put up another one?... I was just trying to figure out a way to utilize the existing equipment, rather than end up with this series of towers in this rural setting.”

Sr. Real Estate and Construction Manager for AT&T Mobility Andrew Flowers said collocation on the existing tower is possible, but not something his company was giving any consideration.

He said the height of the extant tower wouldn’t allow for quality coverage.

“That particular tower is 130 feet,” Flowers said. “The next capable spot on the tower, as it stands today, would be somewhere between 100 and 110 feet. If the tower is able to be extended, that would only bring it to an approximate 180 feet – still shorter than what we are proposing.”

Flowers cited a difference in elevation between the existing site and proposed location, as well. He said the parcel on which AT&T’s new tower will stand is considerably higher in altitude.

“The difference between our land that we’re proposing to build the tower on and where the current tower is is about 25 to 30 feet in elevation,” Flowers said. “So if you add those together, we’re significantly higher than the tower could ever be at that facility.”

Constructing a new tower would therefore only make more sense, he said.

The AT&T representative then cited state law regarding collocation on towers, which states that a provider has the right to put up its own tower if collocation presents an economic burden.

“The Wisconsin State Statutes are fairly clear on what can and cannot be done,” Flowers said. “And if we can prove that there’s economic hardship, and that we have the need for capacity and coverage, then it starts to become a much clearer picture of what we’re really allowed to do.”

He said he would rather work with municipalities, though, rather than force their hands.

“Now do we want to go down that path and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” Flowers said, “and kind of force you guys to do it? No. But we have to work together and like, I said, play nice in the sandbox.”

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