The Washington City Council Tuesday rejected the request of a cell tower owner to stop using a disguised tower as a flagpole.
Tuesday night, the council voted 7-0 against the special use permit request by SBA to permanently remove a flag from a cell tower “disguised” as a flagpole. Councilman Greg Skornia was not at the meeting.
SBA made the request in order to place additional antennas on the tower located at 85 Cecelia Drive. It is located east of Burger Park.
Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci said that since the tower is in an M-1 light industrial district and never received a special use permit in the first place, in order to remove the flag and no longer disguise the tower, they are required to now obtain a special use permit.
According to Ashley Wessell, with Selective Site Consultants Inc. (SSC), which is representing SBA, the flag would interfere with the new equipment requiring them to remove the flag indefinitely.
The equipment was proposed to expand services for Sprint customers in that area of Washington.
In a close vote Monday, Feb. 12, the city’s planning commission recommended 5-4 that the council approve the request.
“I for one, hate to see the flag go,” said Councilman Jeff Patke. “That’s the downside for me.”
Craig Licklider, a senior engineer with Sprint, stated in order to add new equipment, the flag must be removed because there is no room for both the flag rope and equipment cables.
He added the new equipment would supply high frequency data to local Sprint customers.
“If we don’t get the enhancement, we won’t be able to provide high-speed data,” he explained.
Licklider said the only other option to provide high-speed data would be a new pole. There would be no requirements to make the new pole disguised due to changes in state law enacted after the Cecelia Drive pole was erected.
Councilwoman Susan Watermann said she contacted SBA and SSC prior to Tuesday’s meeting. She said SBA has not explored ways to continue using the tower as a disguised cell tower.
A disguised tower has an architectural or aesthetic purpose other than its function as a cellphone tower.
“It doesn’t seem like there has been a lot of outside-the-box engineering to maintain the concealed tower even if it is not a flagpole,” Watermann said.
She offered an example of a disguised tower in the shape of a pencil, which is located near a school.
“I would like more thought and different options,” Watermann said.
Wessell explained that disguised towers can be very costly when structural changes are necessary.
Councilman Mark Hidritch questioned if a track could be installed on the exterior, similar to a garage door mechanism, that would not interfere with new equipment on the pole.
Licklider said that is an option that SBA could explore.
“It has to be a flagpole,” said Robert Ohlrich who lives near the pole. “I don’t care if there are three antennas or 33.”
Washington VFW Commander Robert Dzurick agreed.
“As a Vietnam veteran, this flag really makes Washington a little better than any place I have ever been,” he said.