By Sam Robinson
It was standing room only at the public Advisory Plan Commission meeting this week on the construction of an AT&T cell phone tower near the corner of 146th Street and Oak Ridge Road.
The hearing reviewed the design plan of a 120-foot cell tower that AT&T wants to build in a residential area on a plot of land owned by Our Lady of Mount Carmel church and school. The plot borders the school’s athletic field and an adjacent natural gas pumping station.
The Advisory Plan Commission didn’t vote to approve the tower, which would sit at the border between Westfield and Carmel, but it heard concerns from members of the community that think the tower poses a threat to public safety.
“We’re very concerned with this location in a residential area,” said Doug Holtz, the Home Owners Association president of the Village Farms neighborhood in Westfield. “None of our concerns were taken into account by the board of zoning appeals.”
“We feel like we were ignored as citizens of Westfield,” Holtz added.
Critics of the tower are concerned that it could fall onto 146th Street or onto school property. The Board of Zoning Appeals granted AT&T a variance to build the tower on the plot on May 12 despite public disapproval. The variance means AT&T can build the tower 65 feet from the road and 75 feet from school property, while usually a structure has to be at least as far away from the road as its height.
Indiana law states that a variance may only be granted if “the approval will not be injurious to the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community.” Critics of the tower said that they don’t think the Board of Zoning Appeals met that standard.
Matt Price, the legal representative of AT&T for the proposed tower, argued that the tower would be a positive addition to public safety.
“It actually improves safety by providing cell coverage for 911,” said Price. Commission member Robert Spraetz asked Price if AT&T had considered any other locations.
“We did,” Price responded. “But it’s uniquely suited. It has to meet the needs of the existing network infrastructure that serves Westfield.”
Price also responded to public concerns by pointing out that the plot had already been approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
“That’s been decided,” Price said. “What we’re here to decide is if it meets building codes.”
The Advisory Plan Commission found that the proposed tower is compliant with all relative building codes.
The tower would be designed as a ‘stealth pole,’ which is meant to look more like a flag pole than a traditional cell tower. Price said that, although it would be possible to put a flag on the tower, it would be impractical from AT&T’s perspective because the flag would either have to be lit at all times, or someone would be needed to raise and lower the flag every day.
Westfield City Councilor Steve Hoover (District 2) said he “would think the flag would solve the issue of aesthetics.”
Steve Baranyk of Westfield said he didn’t agree.
“Putting a flag on it is a nice touch, but it’s not enough,” said Baranyk, who spoke publicly in opposition to the tower. “I think it’s the wrong place for the tower.”
“It goes 120 feet up in the air,” Baranyk added. “How do you hide that?”