Cell towers a sell for government agencies?

Cell towers a sell for government agencies?

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

Possible locations of cell towers are up in the air for Winnebago County, the City of Rockford and the Rockford Park District. However, Rockford Housing Authority has allowed towers to be placed atop buildings that house hundreds of residents.

Many people dislike the sight of the towers themselves and fear dwindling property values. Opponents also worry about the towers’ power; they fear radiation emitted from towers could cause maladies such as various cancers.

Nevertheless, government entities see the towers as a moneymaking opportunity. Vertical Partners, the sole company selected by the goverment agencies’ Joint Purchasing Committee, must obtain approval for the sites by each governmental body before looking for telecommunications carriers. If Vertical Partners finds a substantial number of carriers, the company must then obtain final approval from the appropriate governmental entity. The company must also go through proper city and county zoning channels.

Vertical Partners pays rent to whichever governmental entity owns the site.

Winnebago County

County Purchasing Director Sally Claassen said she has no details at this time, but she hopes to have a presentation on cell towers for the Sept. 6 or 27 County Board meeting.

If the company finds carriers for sites, the county would collect 67 percent of the gross revenue monthly for the towers. It would also garner $700 from the first tenant and 33 percent of the gross revenue for each additional tenant per month for each site.

The possible sites are the County Courthouse, 400 W. State St.; the Administration Building, 404 Elm St.; River Bluff Nursing Home, 4401 N. Main St.; Animal Services, 4517 N. Main St.; the Juvenile Detention Center, 5350 Northrock Drive; the Juvenile Day Reporting Center, 5330 Northrock Drive; the County Highway Department, 424 N. Springfield Ave.; and the County Highway Department, Riverside Blvd. at I-90.

Last year, the board approved a contract for Vertical Partners to consider locations. Board Member Pete MacKay (R-5) opposes the idea. “I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of public property,” he said. “Cell towers themselves are ugly. I think they’re a blight to the landscape. The idea for all the bull—- was brought to the Joint Purchasing Committee.”

The Joint Purchasing Committee consists of local governmental entities that join together to get lower bids for items.

Current County Board Member Reggie Taylor (D-12) worked for the Rockford Housing Authority two years ago as property officer/planner. He wrote the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Joint Purchasing Committee. “We researched it, and it just happened to be my turn to write an RFP,” Taylor stated. Taylor said the group considered proposals of many companies, which the committee interviewed. Vertical Partners out of Minneapolis was the best choice, he said.

He said the tower concept was brought to the attention of RHA by private agencies and the county. “We found out that other companies were doing it, and it would generate funds … you can lease space and generate revenue,” he said. “It just actually came out of the blue, basically.”

Rockford Housing Authority

RHA acquired the towers about a year ago, Director Gary Verni-Lau said. They are on the roofs of Park Terrace, North Main Manor, Brewington Oaks and Olsen Plaza.

RHA is getting about $1,500 monthly for each location. Verni-Lau said the RHA started scouting out additional income sources because the Department of Housing and Urban Development had reduced subsidies for housing. “At that particular time, we took a look at what resources we had,” Verni-Lau said.

He said no one objected to the cell tower placement at any of the RHA’s public meetings, which occur on the third Thursday of each month at 223 S. Winnebago.

City of Rockford

The city has had the opposite response from citizens who were very vocal in objecting to what they consider unsuitable sites at a public meeting July 9.

At the July 30 City Council meeting, the Rockford City Council rejected the sites and selected six others as a result of the public input.

The new locations are: City Well #28-Beltline and Airport Road; City Well #34-4000 Dawes Road (Southrock); City Well #40 -820 N. Lyford Road; Water Division-1111 Cedar Street; city yards-500 S. Independence; and City Well #44-Owen Center and Elmwood roads (county).

The rejected sites were: City Elevated Tank, 3733 W. Riverside Blvd., City Well #10, 4315 Newburg Rd.; City Well #17, 3724 Brookview Road, City Well #25, 5600 Spring Creek Road, City Well #30, 3725 Trainer Road, City Well #31, Bell School and Rote roads; City Well #39, Spring Brook and Bell School roads (county); and City Well #37, Brown and Huffman Blvd.

Mayor Doug Scott signed an agreement June 12 allowing Vertical Partners to identify, assess and market these now-rejected sites. Scott signed the agreement without

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the knowledge of the aldermen and public.

Rockford residents Mark and Cecilia Dahlgren obtained the agreement through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act when they searched for information relevant to cell towers from the city. They distributed it to aldermen a week before the meeting.

The agreement states that if the City Council failed to object to the sites, Vertical Partners would have automatic authority to try to find carriers for those particular locations. The list expired July 12, just days after council members and the public became cognizant of the agreement.

Therefore, aldermen extended the agreement until Nov. 12 to have time to contemplate whether to approve or reject the sites.

Bob Whalan, who lives at 3741 N. Trainer Road, attended the meeting with his wife and daughter. He is concerned because of potential health effects. The Trainer Road tower would have been located directly across the street from his home.

Whalan fears that Vertical Partners might still procure the adjacent site by suing the city. He is concerned the company might find carriers that prefer the rejected sites to the newly-considered ones. “We won the battle—we haven’t won the war,” Mark Dahlgren said.

But Tom Poulos, president of Vertical Partners, claimed he wouldn’t sue the city.

Rockford School District

Schools and the administration building at 200 S. Madison are also under consideration by Vertical Partners. The district approved the agreement in June of 2000. Vertical Partners has sought out tenants since the spring but hasn’t found any.

But Board Member Stephanie Caltagerone prefers locations away from schools. “It appears that the jury’s still out on whether or not there are harmful effects from them,” she said. “Until we know for certain, I would be leery of putting them next to buildings that house children the majority of the day.”

Communications Director Jim Jennings couldn’t elicit any objections to the towers. “When it was approved a year ago, it wasn’t much of an issue at all,” he said.

Rockford Park District

The Park District has allowed Vertical Partners to seek out carriers for various sites, but the company hasn’t found any yet.

Steve Reichensperger, chief financial officer of the Park District, noted the district has 186 parks. “We only have five potential sites, and any of those would go back to the board,” he said. The sites are Atwood Park, Lockwood Park, Blackhawk Park, Alpine Park and the back half of the old Moose Club property on North Main. He said they all are in open spaces.

“All are sites which have spots in them which are fairly remote or wooded,” he said. “We don’t believe a neighborhood-type park would be a good place to put these. Therefore, we did not offer these.”

He said the towers wouldn’t merely bolster telephone communication, they would also aid the Park District with radio communication.

The Park District possesses another cell tower erected in 1994 in Sinnissippi Park adjacent to the park’s maintenance building. Reichensperger said the tower stands far away from homes and is almost unnoticeable. “Many people don’t realize it,” he said.

Whalan believes grouping the towers in one park or several parks would render the parks unusable, especially since children gather there. “I think it’s a hideous idea,” he said.

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