White River Township 5G tower is canceled for now

The five outstanding waiver applications for the construction of 5G towers in the Township of White River have been withdrawn.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 turns in the Fairoaks, Innisbrooke and Makena Ridge subdivisions.

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 The day before the April 26 meeting, the waiver requests were withdrawn by the petitioner, TeleCAD on behalf of Verizon Wireless, said Michele Hansard, director of planning and zoning.

TeleCad did not respond to requests for 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 because the majority of tower locations are in areas within underground utility districts. Verizon requested special waivers for the towers, which led to a special meeting on March 29.

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

County planning department staff recommended that the BZA deny all waiver requests. County staff said the waivers were meant to be treated as a special exception, but Verizon’s requests did not meet those 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 in any of the county’s zoning districts. Additionally, special exceptions are needed to have a “smooth relationship” with adjacent properties, and those facilities would not be because other utilities are in the area, the report says.

The towers also would not preserve zoning ordinance objectives for the area, the report said.

The report mentioned a Department of Highways memo on the towers where highway engineers said the towers were too close to housing estate streets. The towers had to be at least 7 feet from the edge of the aisles, but were closer than that, according to the memo.

During the special meeting on March 29, 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 impacts about health. Other residents have expressed concern about having more lights in their neighborhood and falling property values.

The council ultimately voted to deny all 23 applications before it.

At the start of the meeting, Russell Brown, an attorney representing Verizon, called for all but one of the petitions to be allowed to stand. Brown told the board that the company only learned of the highway service requirements after the staff report ended last week and needed time to reapply. The council refused the continuation.

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

Small cell facilities can be installed in the district, but they must 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 end of the meeting, Brown told the board that Verizon had few options going forward. The company could redesign the poles and resubmit its claims, travel to another community or request that the denials be reviewed by a judge, he said.

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