Committee says 'no' to cell tower after crowd blasts proposal

CAC to mull Indianola Avenue tower tonight; city will make final decision


By a unanimous vote, members of the Clintonville Area Commission's zoning and variance committee last week rejected a request that would have paved the way for a 100-foot cell tower on Indianola Avenue.

Their recommendation, made after hearing 11 opponents speak against the telecommunications antenna on a commercially zoned lot at 3005 Indianola Ave. that currently contains an unoccupied home. The request will go before the full area commission at 7 p.m. today, July 10, in the meeting room at the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 3909 N. High St.

The CAC's ruling on the request for a variance from required setbacks for cell towers in residential areas then will move to the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment for a final decision.

A possible record crowd of nearly 150 people, all of them -- save for the applicant's representative -- opposed to the tower, turned out for last week's committee meeting at Clinton Heights Lutheran Church, committee Chairwoman Dana Bagwell said.

"The sanctuary was full," she said.

Eight of the committee's nine members were present for the session. Bagwell said they all voted against the request for a variance from the normally required setback of 200 percent of total height from residential zoning after hearing from Kristopher M. Nickel of Hilliard-based Cbjm Development LLC, the representative of property owner August T. Simmons, as well as the proposal's opponents.

"He fielded a lot of questions," Bagwell said.

Those in the audience and members of the committee wanted to know the service area for the cell tower, how far it would reach and the number of T-Mobile subscribers who would be served.

"I felt like the questions weren't really being answered," Bagwell said.

"I felt good about the session," tower opponent Jeff Frontz said. "There were a lot of folks there. Dana even commented that she was surprised and had never seen that many people at the meeting.

"I thought it was a good result," Frontz said. "The committee members asked really good questions and the audience expressed a lot of good rationale for why the tower is not a good idea."

"The main reason the committee voted against it -- when we look at these applications, we focus on the hardship aspect," Bagwell said. "We felt the hardship statement was lacking. There was not a huge benefit for the community that we could present against their wishes.

"There were just lots of unknowns, really not a need for it that we could see."

Frontz said he has tried to approach the applicant to get more information and to offer alternatives for a less-intrusive method of accomplishing the same goal.

"It's been really tough to get good information from them," the self-described environmentalist said. "The information we get from them is not always self-consistent."

"It's a strange situation. I've tried repeatedly to talk to some of their technical experts ... and every step of the way, we've been rebuffed."

Frontz added he's turned to other cellphone-equipment providers and all say there's no reason the proposed tower could not be located along Interstate 71 and accomplish the same goal for T-Mobile.

"To a person they say that, and not being able to talk to their technical person, we're left trying to understand what the rationale is," he said.

Frontz believes that because Clintonville has a reputation as a community that stands up against unwelcome development, the cell tower on Indianola Avenue is serving as a test case. If it is approved over the neighborhood's wishes, he said, "we'll be seeing these spring up all over the community."