SBA Cites Telecom’ Act of ‘96 and Gets a Permit From City

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Violation of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 forced one local municipality to approve a conditional use permit for a 90-foot tower on February 13. The permit was first requested by SBA Communications in 2015, but the Moorhead City Council rejected the application twice without a written response. Although evidence was submitted to the council proving the necessity of the tower, the council chose to reject approval and deny personal wireless services. In addition, the council actively engaged in activities to subvert SBA, and make it nearly impossible to build the tower.

Inforum listed the wrongs committed by the council while considering the tower. Verizon Wireless commissioned SBA to build a facility to fill a coverage gap in the city in 2014. An initial permit request was not submitted until September 2015, but the Moorhead Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the tower in October. The site chosen was located on city property. When the request came before the city council, it tabled discussion twice before it decided to sell the property to a commercial developer. The minutes from the city council’s meeting indicated members thought the design was unattractive, and did not beautify the city. 

Council member Jim Haney owned a nearby business, and was uncomfortable with how close the tower would have been to his enterprise. After the decision was made, the council overhauled the city’s ordinances regulating cell towers, and made changes to the buffer zone which would prohibit the possibility of the tower being built at the same location in the future.

When SBA filed a new application in August 2016, it came backed by a report from Owl Engineering, proving the gap in coverage and further proving the tower meets city codes. The new site was located 600 feet away from the original location. Aesthetic and health concerns spurred the council to vote down the tower again, and without a written denial. The case against the city was so concrete, Moorhead’s attorney recommended the council reconsider SBA’s application. As a result, it is expected the judge will dismiss the case.

February 21, 2017

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