Potential cell tower raises concerns
US Cellular eyes new tower on church site

By LAUREN ANDERSON - Freeman Staff

Sept. 24, 2016

WAUKESHA — As US Cellular eyes a new cell tower location in the city of Waukesha, Ald. Joe Pieper and some residents are raising concerns.

To address those worries, they are seeking help from state lawmakers to give local municipalities additional control over the placement of the structures.

US Cellular is seeking to install a cell tower on the property of Buen Samaritano United Methodist Church, located at 915 Magnolia Drive.

Pieper said as neighbors in the area have become apprised of the situation, they have reached out to him with concerns regarding property values and possible health risks.

Talks at a standstill

The tower would replace an existing tower on county land east of the Huber Facility, for which the contract expires next year. Negotiations between the county’s corporation counsel and US Cellular to re-up the contract have come to a standstill, as the county has sought to include language that would protect it from any potential lawsuits filed against US Cellular related to the cell tower. That type of provision is standard in the county’s telecommunication contracts, said Shawn Lundie, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow’s chief of staff.

US Cellular, however, hasn’t agreed to those terms. And it’s caused the company to look elsewhere — namely, the church property on Magnolia Drive.

“In my humble opinion, they’re capitalizing on a church that could use the money,” Pieper said. “What nonprofit or church organization couldn’t use extra income for a cellphone tower?”

Reaching out to the state

Pieper said he has reached out to several state lawmakers regarding his and his residents’ concerns. Wisconsin Rep. Scott Allen’s office said he shares those concerns and plans to introduce legislation in January that would allow local governments to prohibit the placement of a new mobile service support structure within 750 feet of a boundary of a low density residential zoning district. Allen introduced a similar bill last session.

“There has been enough of these situations around the state that it seems there may be some traction in Madison to change this and give all of the local control back to the city level to decide where these things go,” Pieper said, “versus allowing these cell phone companies to put these things wherever they want, no matter where the neighborhood is or what the neighbors say.”

Meanwhile, Pieper is optimistic that the city could block the installation of the new tower.

US Cellular will need to show that the lease agreement with the county constitutes a financial hardship for the company. City staff is therefore going to recommend denial when the cell tower placement comes before the Plan Commission on Oct. 12, arguing that the agreement doesn’t impose financial hardship on US Cellular.

“We’re going down the path of ideally not having the cellphone tower there,” Pieper said.

US Cellular couldn’t be reached for comment as of press time.

Email: landerson@conleynet.com