Unanswered concerns about ingress and egress were ultimately the downfall of a proposed cell tower northwest of Yankton.
Tuesday night, after nearly 2 1/2 hours of deliberation that ended just short of midnight, The Yankton County Planning Commission voted to reject a conditional-use permit to Velocitel/AT&T for the construction of a new cell tower north of Lewis & Clark Lake. Commissioner Joe Healy was the lone vote against the rejection.
According to Development Services Director Gary Vetter, the proposed tower is 199 feet tall and located in the 300 block of Wildflower Rd. near 310th St. just to the north of Lewis & Clark Lake.
Tuesday marked the third straight meeting that the Velocitel conditional-use permit was before the Planning Commission. In August, it was tabled in order to allow questions on access to the site to be answered. During the September meeting, the CUP was again tabled to allow more time to answer questions on site access, as well as to allow AT&T to look at alternative sites for the tower. Comments at both meetings were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal.
The case was much the same Tuesday evening.
One of those who spoke was Todd Huber, who objected to the process AT&T had used for the location selection.
“Cell tower companies are supposed to select cell tower (sites) starting with the highest priority going to existing towers on county-owned property. Next priority is towers on non-county owned properties; next priority is a new tower on county-owned property; fourth priority is a tower on commercial-owned properties; fifth is a new tower on agricultural property and the very last priority is a tower on residential use,” Huber said. “In this particular case, AT&T jumped right to the residential property.”
He characterized most of the 17 sites that AT&T had looked at prior to the proposed site as “nonsensical.” They included locations such as the Dairy Dock, Captain Norm’s and other businesses along the Highway 52 corridor.
In an e-mail to the Press & Dakotan, Huber said he reached out to three property owners that AT&T had stated they had been in negotiations with, but deals could not be reached.
“One property owner (who owns a corn field) says he was contacted by AT&T but they ‘low-balled’ an offer that was not acceptable,” Huber said. “The second property owner (corn field/pasture land) says he was contacted by AT&T but was never given a written nor verbal offer. The third property was the BY water tower at the intersection of Highway 50 & 52. AT&T nixed the site because ‘the tank was relatively short, so a WCF mounted on this structure would not have closed AT&T’s significant service coverage gap.’”
Additionally, Huber stated he reached out to nine other property owners within the area that he stated would’ve been willing to locate a cell tower on their farm/pasture land and that a couple had even once had communications towers, since deemed obsolete and removed, on their land in the past.
Huber — as did some of the other residents — made it clear that he supports AT&T building infrastructure and improving service.
“I am definitely in favor of AT&T building a new tower and getting better cell coverage in the lake area,” he said. “But AT&T did not perform the necessary due diligence in selection of a cell tower site.”
The project was not without some support. The meeting packet included several letters from entities such as the Yankton Convention & Visitors Bureau, Lewis & Clark Recreation Area and some lake area residents in support of the project.
A lawyer representing AT&T told the commission it would be hard for them to legally deny the application.
“This county’s own consultant found — and I know the commission has heard this, but I’m going to state it again — it would be hard to defend the denial of the conditional-use permit in this instance,” he said.
However, Planning Commission chairperson Kristi Schultz said that AT&T hadn’t addressed some of the points that the commission had tabled the item in order for them to do.
“They did not look for any other sites in the last month,” she said. “Ingress and egress is still poor at best.”
Commissioner Dan Klimisch also expressed concern about moving forward.
“Everybody wants better cell service and internet,” he said. “This is a case of a great project in the wrong location. Not only that, I feel it doesn’t meet the county standards for ingress and egress. With that, I don’t feel we can approve it even if we wanted to.”
He added that the county ultimately doesn’t want to push AT&T out of upgrading infrastructure in the area.
“AT&T, we want you in our community,” Klimisch said. “We want internet, but it has to be in the appropriate spot.”
Following the CUP’s denial, former Yankton County Commissioner Bruce Jensen appeared before the Planning Commission, accusing Healy along with commissioners Don Kettering and Cheri Loest of having an unannounced meeting.
“I’ve got a complaint to Pierre already — and we’re going to push this hard —because you guys know better,” Jensen said.
He also submitted a petition regarding proposed zoning changes he’s brought before the Planning Commission in the past and asked for a vote on them — stating his intention to take them and a recent wheel tax to a special election.
Healy pointed out that there were missing elements.
“It’s incomplete and we can’t take any action on it,” he said.
Jensen pleaded with the Planning Commission to at least put out a motion and vote on his proposed changes, but none was made.
Schultz suggested filling in the missing areas and then bringing it before the Planning Commission next month.
“If you want us to bring this to the board, everything should be in order so that it’s legal,” she said.
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