Aldermen table CUP for 190-foot tower

Aldermen ask county officials to review other potential sites

By Mike Anthony

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen voted last week to table a request for a conditional-use permit to construct a 190-foot telecommunications tower proposed as part of St. Louis County’s new emergency communications network.

Aldermen conducted two readings of an ordinance to approve the CUP request, but voted 7-1 Dec. 11 to table final consideration of the measure to give county officials time to review other possible sites. Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Webb was opposed.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Dec. 5 to recommend denial of the request to construct the telecommunications tower at the St. Louis County Health Center, 4580 S. Lindbergh Blvd. Planning and Zoning Commission member Jeff Sanders was absent.

Besides the 190-foot-tall tower to be constructed on the southeast corner of the parking lot at the South County Health Center, the proposal included a 12-foot-by-24-foot prefab building with a generator and an above-ground propane tank.

During a public hearing, David Barney, executive director of the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission, and Russell Been, of Cellective Solutions, presented the request for the telecommunications tower to the Board of Aldermen.

“… This is one of 25 that are being spotted throughout St. Louis County. Not all 25 have to be erected. Some are on rooftops. Some are on existing county or municipal towers. We only have to build six or seven,” Barney said. “What is the purpose? Today, our police departments, firefighters, our paramedics cannot talk to one another …”

County voters approved a one-tenth of a cent sales tax in November 2009 to fund the new emergency communications network. The new system would allow emergency responders to meet a Federal Communications Commission requirement to narrow their frequency bands.

Barney also addressed some of the concerns raised the previous week by Planning and Zoning Commission members.

“… Can we move the proposed location to the northeast corner? Yes, we can. Moving it a few hundred feet for the convenience of others would not be a problem. Can we bury the propane tank which fuels the emergency generator? Yes, we can. We will have to do it in accordance with fire and building codes, but that will not be a problem,” he said.

Barney noted some Planning and Zoning Commission members questioned why the 1,200-foot-tall Fox 2 TV towers near Lindbergh High School could not be used instead of the health center site.

“No. 1, of course, the health center is county property,” he told aldermen. “But the Fox 2 tower, and I’ll be as honest as I can, No. 1, there (were) some issues with the rent. They asked for $5,000 a month to begin with, which is about twice what we normally see on commercial towers. Generally, commercial operators ask for a 3-percent escalator every year.

“But that wasn’t the primary reason. The Fox 2 tower is over 50 years old. It is to its maximum load. The last company that went on that tower, which was just last year, had to spend $68,000 to put less than 200 pounds of antennas and cable on that tower … I’ve got to put over a thousand pounds of cable and antennas on the new tower or the Fox 2 tower. Do the math. They put up less than 200 pounds. It cost them $68,000. A thousand pounds would double that. It would exceed the cost of a new tower at the health center …”

The cost of the new tower at the health center would be about $100,000 and the county would own the tower, he said.

Webb noted no one questions the value of the emergency communications network, but voiced concerns about a lack of information regarding the county’s plans.

“… Last week was the first time that I ever heard anything about a tower going up in Sunset Hills …,” he said.

Barney later apologized, but cited the scope of the project, saying the specifications alone took about six months to draft and proposals were sought in June 2010 with a December 2010 deadline.

“It took the evaluation team, again representing many different agencies throughout St. Louis County, almost a year to evaluate everything, to interview the vendors, to actually go out and test the proposed radios from different vendors. The contract was not awarded until December 2011, less than a year ago,” he said. “So it took time to award the contract and then get the engineering staff from Motorola, who was awarded the contract less than a year ago, on board and start locating these (towers) …”

Other aldermen questioned Barney about alternative sites, and Ward 2 Alderman Scott Haggerty asked if any consideration had been given to placing the tower between the Community Center and Public Works building.

“I don’t believe we looked at it to any detail,” Barney said. “We knew it was considerably lower. Therefore, we would need a taller tower to make up that difference, which we felt would not be favorably reviewed …”

A variance would be required for a taller tower, he noted, but later said, “… We can certainly look at that if that’s the direction you want us to take.”

Two residents who voiced concerns about the about the tower to the Planning and Zoning Commission also addressed the Board of Aldermen last week.

Resident Daryl Oberkfell, whose business is immediately behind the health center, and Cathy Ely, of Sappington Road, said they were concerned about how the installation of the tower would impact their property values.

Florissant Police Chief William Karabas, who is chairman of the Emergency Communications Commission, said, “… It’s just a daunting task and we know, you know, this upsets people, it really does. And I understand their point of view. But in order for us to do this job, we’re going to have to have some place to put these towers. Otherwise, we’ll be back to square one, where we can’t talk to each other and we won’t be able to protect the citizens that we’re sworn to do …”

Regarding Haggerty’s suggestion to locate the tower on city property, Karabas said, “… Sure, we’d be happy to put it back there if the city would agree to do that …”

Ward 4 Alderman Art Havener later said to Barney, “… Without dismissing your effort and the merits of this project, I was just hoping maybe we could have another month to explore other possible sites. Would you be open to that?”

Barney said, “Yes sir.”