Friday, January 25, 2008

Proposed cell phone tower faces opposition

Hat tip to Fort Wayne Observed

Centennial is applying for a height variance so they can build a cell phone tower near the GE building on Broadway. Some people do not want it to be built for aesthetic reasons.

Folks, my primary objection to not granting the variance is that it is a violation of property rights. Many regular readers of this blog already know the libertarian view on property rights, and they either agree with it or they don't. I won't bother repeating it in this post.

Instead, I will make the argument that the new cell phone tower serves the public interest. Even though cell phones are still perceived as a luxury, many individuals and companies depend on them for critical calls. Sometimes a motorist has a medical emergency, sometimes the guy who is on-call isn't at home when the boss needs him. Centennial would not go to the expense of building this tower if it were not needed to improve reception.

If the city uses "aesthetics" as an argument against allowing companies to build here, it will mean that fewer companies will want to have operations in Fort Wayne. It would be one thing if someone wanted to put a new structure in a purely residential neighborhood. But Broadway is a place of industry, and industry isn't supposed to be pretty. It's supposed to be profitable.


Kevin said...

Actually, Centenial is NOT building the tower. Another company is- and their business is to build towers and lease space to up to 3 different cell phone carriers.

This is a standard model in the cell industry- as the "monthly rent" on the tower (generally about $1500 per carrier per tower- or $4500 per month) is recurring revenue FOREVER! (towers are cash cows- trust me- I know about this part of the wireless business!)

Centennial has stated that this tower will help them when they have increased service needs in Downtown Fort Wayne. But so could many other locations- ones that do not require a tower going up in a historic neighborhood.

Robert, you bring up a valid point about property rights- but should someone be able to ANYTHING on their property, without thought as to what it does to someone else's property? Of course not.

For that reason you cannot simply choose to put a gas station anywhere you want (or a store, etc.)

The GE Building is the highest building facing downtown from the Southwest of the city- the cell companies could lease space on top of that building for cellular arrays and you would never see them!

Robert Enders said...

You should not be able to build something on your land if it infringes on the rights of others. For example, a fat rendering plant in my backyard would generate so much noise and smell that it would put an undue burden on the lives of my neighbors. Therefore, I should not be allowed to use my backyard for that purpose.

This tower does not create such a burden on the surrounding neighborhood. A year after it is built, nobody is going to notice that it is there.

Kevin said...

Trust me...You WILL notice a tower that is more than 10 stories high.

Robert Enders said...

You notice any new construction or demolition. But after a while, it's just part of the background. The tower won't make any loud noises or offensive smells. It will just sit there, receiving and broadcasting on a fequency invisible to human sight.

Charlotte A. Weybright said...


As Kevin said, GenCom is building this tower. Centennial is not. The Centennial spokesman who was sent to answer questions at our West Central meeting had few answers to what we asked.

Like I said, I truly felt sorry for him. We were frustrated every time we asked a question and his response was I don't know or I am not an engineer or I don't have that information.

One of our members went to the Commission and picked up a set of the drawings and application. I can tell you from looking at them, the area sought to be covered is negligible. It is very small.

As to your theory of property rights, you know that property owners just can't do anything they want with their properties.

Restrictions range from zoning laws, building codes, association covenants, etc. just to name a few restraints on property rights.

When you argue that using aesthetics "against allowing companies to build here", you are missing the point. A company isn't building anything other than a 150-foot tower. No employees, no boost to the economy, no new workers coming in and bringing their cash, no new families moving in to rent or buy real estate.

GenCom simply goes around and builds towers. And, as to Broadway being a place of industry, well take another look. The area of Broadway and Taylor is set to become a "Gateway" into the city. Broadway is a place of businesses not industry - other than GE I can't think of too many factories lining the streets.

You make the comment that the tower will just "sit there not making any noise or any smell" - is that your criteria for whether or not a structure is acceptable?

Charlotte A. Weybright said...


Check out this YouTube clip about disguising cell phone towers. I found this as I was researching towers.

If GenCom and Centennial really cared about what we thought, perhaps they would put a little extra into a disguise.

Robert Enders said...

"No employees, no boost to the economy, no new workers coming in and bringing their cash, no new families moving in to rent or buy real estate."

They'll pay taxes on the tower, won't they? That's something I forgot to mention. Is that a big enough boost for you?

My worry is that if asthetics is sufficient to keep something from being built, it's enough to get something torn down. Who gets to determine what is pretty enough to stay? How much of the South Side will left when it is all said and done?

Charlotte A. Weybright said...

No, frankly paying taxes on the tower is not enough. The property already is subject to taxes, I would assume. So at best, it might increase somewhat.

As you said, "It will just sit there, receiving and broadcasting on a frequency invisible to human sight."

The only purpose it will serve is to pander to motorists who are driving in the area. The most their reception might be affected is the minute or two it takes to get past that area.

Are we so impatient today that we can't get by without chatting on a cell phone on the way home?

When you talk about the value of human life, we are told every day not to talk on the cell phone while driving because it is dangerous. Doesn't that say something about valuing life? People would rather talk on the phone and possibly have an accident than give up a minute or two of time.

The rep at our meeting said it wasn't an issue with reception in residences, it was only with vehicle traffic.

I take it you don't think aesthetics has any place in our society. Our West Central Plan has already been established - that happened several years ago when the city approved the Plan. And in the Plan, it requires that structures be built in conformity with the historic nature of the neighborhood.

That is what comes with being an historic neighborhood. It is no different than when people move into subdivisions which have rules and regulations. If they don't like the rules and regulations attached to the purchase of a home, then don't buy it.

Aesthetic issues are all around us. And sometimes they are used to prevent an unsightly object from being built. And sometimes aesthetics is used to tear down a building - for instance, when a home or commercial property becomes so run down, the city files an OTD and proceeds to demolish it.

We are trying really hard in West Central to prevent homes from being demolished but sometimes we lose because the run-down property has become hazardous and an eyesore.

As far as your reference to the South Side, I would think the goal would be to get people energized to reinvest in the area, both commercially and residentially.

Look at East Central - the dozens and dozens of empty lots on E. Berry, E. Washington, etc. are sad reminders that decay set in and no one was there to stop it. The result is what you see when you drive those streets.

By the way - did you look at the YouTube clip?

gadfly said...

In case you have forgotten the news story, FWCS authorized the building of a cell tower on Reed Road next to Snider's football field. The tower looks nothing like the light stantions that surround the field, but now it serves as the pole for one set of lights. Neighbors did not get to vote or even object to the tower, so what makes a downtown tower circumstance to be different?

I am somewhat surprised that the owners of One Summit Square do not offer their building as a home for cell towers. Not to worry, the light towers at Harrison Square will provide the perfect place for Hardball Capital to make more money at taxpayer expense.

Kevin said...


There are some antennas on One Summit Square.

However, at one point, the owners did not want any....they think antennas are ugly!

Charlotte A. Weybright said...


If cell phone towers are subject to variances, there would have been some type of notice. Trouble is, most residents either don't see the notice, are not aware of it, or just don't participate in the process.

If you care about your neighborhood, and you are aware of something happening, then take part in the process. Sometimes public outcry is enough; sometimes it isn't. But at least you tried.

Phil Marx said...

I always laugh when I hear people talking about this "great treasure" that is the GE sign. I think it's ironic that fifty years ago (or whenever it was put up) the same people who are against the tower would probably have been against this huge billboard even being installed in the first place.

But now that it has aged, it is considered valuable. Nothing personal, Charlotte, it's just my opinion that the whole historical preservation thing is a little overblown.

On the other hand, I don't own a cell phone, so I'm OK if they don't build the tower. But I wonder if there is another option. This idea occurred to me after watching the camouflage video.

I wonder if there would be a way to incorporate the tower into the sign itself. I don't know what the height of the GE building is compared to the proposed tower, but it's possible that no additional height would even be required. Just add the cell phone eqipment to the back side of the sign and you've got reception.

No one sees the sign when they're driving close to it, because it's too high. It's only visible from a distance of at least a few blocks. There is already a lot of support structure to the sign that is not part of the lit up display. I'd bet that the additional equipment would not even be noticed.

Charlotte A. Weybright said...


I have never based my argument on saving the view of the GE sign. If you read my posts, I don't believe I mention the GE sign one time. My concern has been the structure fitting into the West Central Neighborhood.

The GE sign is high into air space. You can only see it from a distance. My argument is not so much that the GE sign may be blocked, but that the tower itself is an unsightly object which does not conform to the West Central Plan adopted by the City.

I posted over at Fort Wayne Observed about the efforts of Starbucks, Fort Wayne Newspapers, and St. Joe in creating aesthetically-pleasing structures which do not stick out like sore thumbs.

All three made the effort and worked with our association to present their ideas in keeping with the West Central Plan.

As to the value of historical preservation, would you be against preserving all memoirs, writings, objects, homes, buildings, etc. that are old and historical in nature? Historical preservation is more than just conforming to specific plans; it is the sum of our past.

We cannot sever historical preservation from the topic of history - it would be like severing one half of the brain from the other.

gadfly said...

Historical preservation does not concern our city fathers when such consideration gets in the way of a pet project such as the Harrison Square fiasco.

Rememember 206 E Jefferson Boulevard - the Chauncey Griffith House? It is gone, demolished for a lousy Subway Sandwich Shop.

If historic preservation is important is obviously not top priority. A stupid cell tower pole cannot be any more distracting than exposed electric lines and ugly telephone poles lining downtown streets.

As much as we all appreciate the West Central neighborhood, we have to admit that there are as many ugly rundown buildings (including GE) as there are classic refurbished homes.

Those old enough to remember the 1950s may recall General Electric's motto: "In the meantime, remember: From electricity comes progress; progress in our daily living; progress in our daily work; progress in the defense of our nation; and at General Electric, progress is our most important product."

Charlotte A. Weybright said...


Believe me, we are aware of the "rundown" buildings in West Central. We purchased a house at 1134 Nelson as a CHDO project and then refurbished it for sale.

The problem is that in the time it takes us to complete at project like 1134 Nelson, the City can tear down 3 or 4 homes.

As to your point about electric lines, yes those are everywhere, and we don't have much choice. But we do have the right under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to oppose cell phone tower placement and construction.

Cell phone towers are not as frequent as electric lines, so their placement does become a matter of fitting into neighborhoods and plans.

The zoning board can ask that GenCom place the tower somewhere else; it could ask that it be designed with a disguise of some type if it allows placement in its current location; or, it could deny the variance altogether.

Robert Enders said...

Of those options, the third choice seems to be the most unreasonable. But I'm glad that you would be willing to compromise by allowing it to be disguised.

You should consider revising the plan if the city keeps tearing down homes. I would imagine that a modern-style home would fit in West Central better than a vacant lot.

Phil Marx said...


My statement was based upon comments made about this issue on several local blogs. Some of them posed this as a "save the GE sign" crusade. I only addressed it to you because I thought my comments might be seen as anti-preservationist. I apologize if I appeared to misrepresent your position.

For clarity, I would like to state that I am not anti-preservationist. It has it's value for both historical as well as aesthetic reasons. But it should always be measured agaist other factors (such as idividual property rights) also.

That area of Broadway (actually pretty much all of Broadway) looks pretty dumpy to me. I doubt if adding a landfill there would do much harm to the immediate area. In fact, I was surprised to even find out that it falls within West Central Neighborhood Association. When I think of WCNA, I think of the nice homes on College, Rockhill, and W Jefferson.

But apparantly the site for the proposed tower on Broadway falls within your jurisdiction. That means either the current owner helped to set up these regulations, or they bought it with these regulations already in place.

In my opinion, you win on the property rights issue because the property owner willingly gave up some of his individual property rights to the collective. But on the aesthetics issue, I still think the argument is weak because that area is already so run down.

Charlotte A. Weybright said...


The site is owned by Local 901 Trust - I believe associated with GE. They probably really don't care what happens with the property as long as they can dispose of it.

Since GE is no longer functioning, the the land is just sitting there.

And, you are right, Broadway is not very attractive right now. But have you noticed the work that has been done on the old Fire Station? It has been renovated and is really beautiful inside.

But the Around the Square Plan - better known as the Harrison Square Sub-Plan calls for the Broadway area to be a gateway into the city. The sub-plan is an effort to spruce up that area.

One of the things we learned from the Centennial Representative is that they haven't even looked for an alternative site.

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