Plan Commission continues cell tower discussion til September

AT&T provided this rendering of how a 107-foot tall cell tower alongside the North Suburban YMCA would look. The inset picture at lower left is the photo used for the graphic.
AT&T provided this rendering of how a 107-foot tall cell tower alongside the North Suburban YMCA would look. The inset picture at lower left is the photo used for the graphic.

NORTHBROOK — Safety, necessity and cluttering of North Suburban YMCA property were debated by Northbrook Plan Commissioners Aug. 19 as they hashed out a proposal for a 107-foot cell tower 15 feet from the building.

The hearing was continued until 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at Village Hall, 1225 Cedar Lane, when AT&T representatives are to bring back new plans on where ground equipment can be set up, and substantiation of how a 10-story monopole, when damaged, can fall without striking a building 15 feet away.

AT&T had planned a brick shelter for its own antenna-control equipment, measuring about 12 feet by 28 feet, plus a rough sketch of another three similar boxes for each company that might eventually choose to “co-locate” on the tower. But the firm didn’t want to plan any of those three now, as representatives said the 8-foot-tall boxes were expensive, and that they remained unsure whether any other wireless firms would buy in.

Why, commissioners asked, couldn’t some of the brick boxes be consolidated to save space, and avoid each new one requiring another approval?

The company promised to bring back different plans.

But in the end, it seemed likely that the west side of the property at 2705 Techny Road would never look again as it does now.

Commission Chairwoman Marcia Franklin noted that the area has traditionally been a soccer field.

“I’m not sure you can run the length of the field with a brick wall there, but that’s up to you,” she told YMCA Executive Director Howard Schultz.

Schultz acknowledged that the YMCA is receiving an “undisclosed” amount of money for allowing the tower on its property. He declined to disclose the figure saying it was a private contract.

The most significant change requested by the YMCA is to set aside the requirement that all monopoles have 110 percent of their height in which to fall down without hitting a building if they are damaged.

That requirement – more strict than in many other towns – would change not just for the site, but for everywhere in Northbrook, just as the number of cell towers is expected to grow substantially.

Commissioner Bryan Schimel said he had seen an Internet video of a collapsing tower after an equipment fire at its base.

“I know it can catch fire, and when it was on fire it softened the base, and the tower fell over like a log,” he said.

“Given that, I don’t know how appropriate it is putting it next to a building full of kids.”

AT&T’s Andrew Flowers said fires that spread into hollow monopoles are hard to control, but that the ground equipment at the YMCA would probably be too far from the tower to be a hazard.

He reiterated assurances that the tower would, if severely damaged, fold up and collapse and fall within 10 feet of itself, missing the building.

Flowers, AT&T senior real estate and construction manager for Illinois and Wisconsin, said the engineering of monopoles has improved “even in the last five years.”

The tower would be “extremely fat around the base, with very thick walls,” he said. Plans indicate a hollow base about 4 feet thick, said to be designed to stand up to 150 mph hurricane-force winds.

Northbrook village trustees – including those with engineering degrees – had a hard time last fall accepting AT&T claims about falling monopoles that hit the ground only a few feet from their starting point. Some commissioners did, too.

“Is it wired, so the top section wouldn’t strike the top of the building?” Commissioner Norm Jacobs asked. “Or would it go straight down?”

Andrews: “The engineers can make it any way I ask them.”

“I’m a little hesitant,” Plan Commissioner Jeremy Melnick said. “I know they say the engineers can build anything, but I’m still a little scared.”

Some of the other commissioners seemed satisfied with the explanations, but Schimel wasn’t one of them.

“I know they say it’s unlikely to fall on the building, but that’s not good enough for me, especially with a building packed with children.

“In general, for me, it’s just a non-starter,” he said of a fall-zone code change.

Schimel also was unwilling to accept on face value AT&T colored maps of wireless reception improvement, before and after the tower would go in, that didn’t show readily understandable values for signal strength.

“People in Northbrook are not interested in having a tower erected every 500 feet so you guys can have your arms race of wireless service. Showing something is green instead of blue is like saying I want a Ferrari, when a Honda works just fine,” Schimel said.

“I don’t need a Ferrari. We have this competing interest of what is best for Northbrook and what’s best for the phone company.”

Schimel got an argument from the pastor of the church next door.

“We would love to have a Honda,” said The Rev. Tom Beckstrom of the Northbrook Evangelical Covenant Church, 2737 Techny Road.

“I get an awful lot of phone calls, and I use my cell phone a lot, and my favorite answer is, ‘Can you hear me now?’

“All the time, I ask people, ‘Can you call me on the land line?’”

He said that he often has to walk outside to get reception, “and in February, it’s not so nice.”

Andrew Doppelt, who lives a short distance from the Y, was the only other member of the public to testify, and he said he wanted the tower, for better wireless reception.

“I’d kill for a Honda,” he said. “I’m driving a scooter without a motor. The reception in our house is substandard to unacceptable.

“I’m a YMCA member, and if it means revenue for the YMCA, I’m strongly in favor of that as well.”

AT&T reiterated earlier statements about the trend in business. “There’s been almost a 30,000 percent increase in data” between 2007 and 2012, Flowers said.

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