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21 June 2016

Wisconsin: Appleton Risks Lawsuit, Votes Against Cell Tower Proposal

[One neighbor fears he'll soon be staring at a cell tower
38 feet from his daughter's bedroom.]
Appleton risks lawsuit, votes against cell tower proposal
by Billy Wagness, nbc26.com, 16 June 2016

Vote praised by neighbors, goes against statute

APPLETON, WI -- In an unforeseen twist, Appleton city leaders have defied state statute in siding with neighbors in voting against a proposed cell phone tower.
The 85-foot tower, requested by Verizon Wireless, was set to be built near homes along the 2700 block of North Kesting Court.

Neighbors fighting this say they're shocked, and pleased with the vote that saw seven aldermen in favor, and four against the proposal. Now, leaders say the city risks a lawsuit since the tower technically meets state standards.

For neighbor Ryan Vissers, it's not at all about stopping economic growth.

"We're not against infrastructure, we're not against high-speed internet," he says, standing in his front yard.

For Vissers, and others, it's all about safety, and being good neighbors. And, until last night, Vissers says he was all but certain he'd soon be staring at a cell tower 38 feet from his daughter's room.

"There are some things that need to hold certain values," says Vissers, referencing the weeks-long battle to stop the tower, "and protecting our community, and your property, is one of those things."

Vissers says this week's vote is a clear sign the city is listening.

"Hopefully we can work together, and try to come up with a solution that [ensures] both parties are happy," says Vissers, "and we can move forward from there."

For city council members, last night's vote was not easy.

"It's a real conflict for them," says Mayor Tim Hanna. "More of them were voting their conscience last night."

Hanna says, in simple terms, aldermen and women made it clear that "enough is enough" with city leaders having their hands tied by a 2013 state statute that effectively shuts down any reason a city, community, or neighborhood may want to halt a cell phone tower from being constructed.

"Let's stand on integrity, and doing the right thing, then," says Hanna. "That's not what the court looks at, in terms of legal arguments," he adds, however.

While he's proud of the City Council, he recognizes the pending battle ahead.

"Truth be told, and we've told our Council this," says Hanna, "we don't have much to stand on here, [but] what if we all started to say 'no'?"

It's a question Mayor Hanna is posing at a time when Green Bay is fighting a similar cell tower proposal at N.E.W. Lutheran High School, in which neighbors have been fighting tooth and nail to have the tower site moved back, away from nearby homes.

And Hanna says lawmakers are listening, as well.

"The local officials are responding to their constituents… the people who live next door to them, in their neighborhood," says Rep. Amanda Stuck [(D) - Appleton].

But Stuck, and other lawmakers, say changing the 2013 statute that bars cities from taking such action will be a challenge. Not only was it relatively recently changed to what it currently is today, but Rep. Stuck says the changes came after cell phone companies kept running into "not in my neighborhood" situations that made erecting new towers difficult.

"I think there is more of a middle ground than what is in state statute right now," admits Stuck. "Unfortunately, I just don't see it changing in the near future. I mean, it just recently changed in the last few years."

Mayor Hanna says, as of tonight, no lawsuit has yet been served to the city.

But he adds the city is willing to work with Verizon, and other interested landowners, in finding a spot for the tower.

Leaders say the full City Council might re-consider the vote at their next meeting, in three weeks.


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