Marcy-Holmes cell phone tower encounters a negative reception

by Mike Rose

A historic building and a cell phone tower have created a controversy in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.

An ongoing dispute between residents and T-Mobile, a cell phone and wireless Internet provider, has left a nearly completed cell phone tower sitting on the Andrews House, which is located in the Fifth Street Southeast Historic District.

Currently, discussions are underway to resolve the issue, and a July 12 meeting before the Zoning and Planning Committee fueled the controversy.

T-Mobile, the sixth-largest mobile network operator in the world, began construction in September 2005 on a new cell phone tower on a fifth-story roof of the Andrews House.

Tom Lincoln, Marcy-Holmes safety and livability committee chairman, said residents started contacting city council representatives and the Heritage Preservation Commission immediately. In October 2005, construction halted.

Lincoln said there might have been some confusion with the application T-Mobile made to the Zoning and Planning Committee. He said the address listed on this application was 414 Seventh St., not 708 Fifth St., which he said is not an official U.S. Postal Service Address, but is where the tower now actually stands.

Lincoln also said he was confused as to why certain lines on the application were left blank.

Peter Coyle, attorney for T-Mobile, said any trouble over the address was never raised as an issue. He said lines left blank on the application did not apply to T-Mobile’s request.

Coyle also said the company contacted the city and the HPC prior to construction but were not told to stop the project.

Gary Schiff, Ward 9 councilman and chairman of the Zoning and Planning Committee, said an error was made by Minneapolis planning staff when they reviewed the application.

Since the staff did not realize the proposal was in a historic district, it was not brought to the HPC, Schiff said.

He said the city receives more than 10,000 building applications a year, but only one or two errors typically occur.

“Frankly, it’s surprising we don’t have more permits issued in error,” Schiff said. “(But) we have the ability to fix errors.”

By the time construction stopped in October 2005, the only uncompleted part of the tower was a protective screen, Lincoln said. He said the tower was otherwise fully operational.

Lincoln said residents pressured T-Mobile into applying for a certificate of appropriateness with the HPC.

In May 2007, the HPC granted a certificate with conditions. The conditions stated that T-Mobile would have to move the tower to an adjacent third-story roof.

Coyle said a cell phone tower that low would not be able to operate properly, and that T-Mobile did nothing wrong and should not have to pay to rebuild the tower.

T-Mobile appealed the conditions July 12, but the Zoning and Planning Committee denied the appeal.

Since then, the two sides have been working on a compromise.

Lincoln said the proposed compromise states that unobtrusive antennas are acceptable where they currently stand, but the rest of the device – a large metal structure with equipment inside – would have to be moved to a remote location.

Coyle said the proposal would work, but the city and the neighborhood should pay for moving the equipment, which he estimated to cost $100,000.

Lincoln said he would like to reach an agreement by the next full city council meeting Aug. 3. Coyle said the two sides are working in “good faith.”

Diane Hofstede, Ward 3 councilwoman, said the sides are discussing where the device is physically able to be moved and who will pay for it. She said she disliked the tower’s current location.

“It’s an inappropriate place,” Hofstede said. “We just need to work it out.”

Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association Executive Director Melissa Bean said the neighborhood’s official stance is that the device should be removed.

“It doesn’t belong in a historic district,” Bean said. “It sets a bad precedent.”

Dan Ott, a history senior who lives on Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue in Marcy-Holmes, said he felt historical preservation efforts by the neighborhood have political motivations, but he said he agreed with its stance.

“I think preservation should come before technological progress,” Ott said.