GENEVA – Geneva aldermen on Monday unanimously voted down a proposal for a 100-foot cellphone tower by Verizon Wireless at 1800 W. State St.
The tower – to be disguised as a pine tree complete with fake branches – was to be on two parcels of the 7.53 acres owned by a local bed and breakfast and wedding venue, Oscar Swan, documents show.
TowerNorth Dev. LLC filed the special use application on behalf of Verizon Wireless. TowerNorth develops, owns and operates wireless infrastructure.
Verizon said in its application for a zoning amendment that it needed a new facility to improve coverage and cover a gap in service in the area of State Street, Randall Road, Geneva Commons and the surrounding business and residential area.
Its application also said the presence of the tower would not affect local property values.
After an hour and a half of questions and discussion during a special City Council meeting, aldermen voted 9-0 with one absent not to approve the requested amendment for a special use to allow the tower. Third Ward Alderman Becky Hruby was absent.
The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended the proposal be denied at its July 14 hearing. The commissioners found that the Blackberry Planned Unit Development, of which the Oscar Swan parcels belonged, did not allow for special use zoning.
The commission also did not accept Verizon’s assertion that it needed an additional tower because of existing poor service conditions, documents show.
Ray Schenkle, with Insite Inc., a wireless consulting firm, spoke on behalf of Verizon at the special meeting.
“What we felt was that the PUD was back in the ’80s, nine years before the Telecom Act, and it didn’t account for the need for a wireless network or new wireless facilities that we are proposing,” Schenkle said. “We thought that the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council would see that it’s outdated and go by the special use standards.”
Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said the tower is not a commercial or retail or residential use, which would be allowed in that area.
“The closest comparison would be as a utility use,” Maladra said. “What is it about the PUD restriction that would make anybody think a utility would be OK there now as opposed to in 1987?”
Schenkle said in 1987 there were 347,000 cellphones compared with today when there are 290 million cellphones.
“These people have grown reliant on a reliable network,” Schenkle said.
Maladra asked if there were no other areas in which to put an addition tower.
“We think it’s a great site,” Schenkle said. “It’s in the area and it checks all the boxes.”
At the Planning and Zoning Commission, nearby residents asked if Verizon could situate the tower farther east by Geneva Commons, Schenkle said.
“The only room to put it would be in that front parking lot. … I don’t know if you could get a variance for the parking, but also, it would stick out like a sore thumb,” Schenkle said.
Schenkle’s sore thumb comment drew laughter from the audience of neighbors who opposed the tower near their homes.
About 160 residents signed a petition asking that the project be stopped, records show. In opposition letters to the commission, neighbors cited the tower’s impact on property values and concerns about their health resulting from radiation.
Maladra defended the restrictions in the 1987 PUD, saying it protected the area from undue changes in zoning and use.
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Amy Mayer said she lives within 500 feet of the proposed tower.
Mayer said Oscar Swan chose to offer the Verizon tower at the furthest point from its business location on its property.
“They’re putting it closest to my neighbors’ houses and backyards,” Mayer said.
“So as far as the special use goes, it is not a use that is consistent with Oscar Swan’s business,” Mayer said. “It is something so repellent to them that they put it in the furthest corner of the site so that it is not seen by their guests. But it’s in one my neighbor’s backyards. … People that live in the apartments nearby, they will see this every single day from their windows.”
Mayer said the Oscar Swan business is shielded by trees on the property, so their guests won’t see the tower.
The residents in the neighborhood will have no such shield, she said.
“Anyone who would say that having this device in their backyard would not affect their property’s value, it’s not even credible to talk about it,” Mayer said. “You’re going to have to go back and try some more. This is not acceptable. If it was acceptable, Oscar Swan would put it right in front of their house. It’s not even close to where they’re doing people’s events, so let’s not talk about putting it in people’s backyards.”