White River Township 5G tower waivers dead for now

The five outstanding waiver requests for the construction of 5G towers in White River Township have been withdrawn.

The Johnson County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) was scheduled to hear five waivers filed by TeleCAD on behalf of Verizon Wireless to install five 43-foot 5G wireless towers in three residential subdivisions in White River Township on April 26. The five waivers were for towers in the Fairoaks, Innisbrooke and Makena Ridge subdivisions.

Three of the waiver petitions had been automatically continued after requests from remonstrators, while the fourth and fifth were continued from a March special meeting. The day before the April 26 meeting, the waiver requests were withdrawn by the petitioner, TeleCAD on behalf of Verizon Wireless, said Michele Hansard, planning and zoning director.

TeleCad did not respond to requests to comment on the withdrawals.

In March, Verizon had filed 28 waivers to install 28 43-foot 5G wireless towers in 11 residential subdivisions in White River Township. The petitions had previously been denied by the county’s planning department as a majority of the tower locations are within areas that are within underground utility districts. Verizon requested special exception waivers for the towers, which led to to a special meeting on March 29.

All of the 5G towers except for one would have three lights installed, and three light poles would have replaced existing poles and street signs. However, the existing street poles are not owned by the county, so Verizon would need permission from homeowner associations to do so. Verizon would have paid for the electric bill and maintenance for all the polls, according to county documents.

Staff with the county’s planning department recommended the BZA deny all the waiver requests. County staff said waivers were supposed to be treated as a special exception, but Verizon’s requests did not meet that criteria, according to a report prepared for the March special meeting.

Verizon’s request to install 5G towers, legally described as “small cell facilities,” is not listed as a special exception under any of the county’s zoning districts. Additionally, special exceptions are required to have a “harmonious relationship” to adjacent properties, and these facilities would not because other utilities are in the area, the report says.

The towers would also not preserve the purposes of the zoning ordinance for the area, the report says.

The report mentioned a highway department memo on the towers where highway engineers had said the towers were too close to streets in the subdivisions. The towers needed to be at least 7 feet from the edge of driveways, but were closer than that, the memo said.

During the March 29 special meeting, which lasted almost six hours, the BZA heard from many residents who were concerned about the location of the towers and questioned the need for the towers as well as possible health impacts. Other residents voiced concerns about having more lights in their neighborhood and property values going down.

The board eventually voted to deny all 23 requests before them.

Early on during the meeting, Russell Brown, an attorney representing Verizon, asked for a continuance for all the petitions but one. Brown told the board the company was not aware of the highway department’s requirements until after the staff report was completed last week, and needed time to redo the requests. The board denied the continuance.

Brown also explained why Verizon needed to install the towers in the neighborhoods. The company had seen a need for additional 5G coverage in several of the subdivisions, so the towers would have met a coverage objective for the company, he said in March.

Small cell facilities can be put within the district, however, they have to be co-located on existing utility poles. Other utilities in the area had declined Verizon’s request to do so, Brown later told the board.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Brown told the board Verizon had few options going forward. The company could redesign the poles and resubmit their requests, go to another community or ask for the denials to be reviewed by a judge, he said.