11/6/2020 2:16:00 PM Internet improvement in North Branch looking at multi-tower installations for wireless
The plan to improve Internet in North Branch using wireless “point to multi-point” tower transmission gained some headway this week with the city planning commission voting 4-1 to recommend to city council the towers sites get Conditional Use Permits.
There are three towers, 120 feet in height, proposed for facilitating this internet project. The planning commission heard the Conditional Use Permit request because the towers exceed the allowable 75 feet.
Planning commissioners heard from supporters and detractors at the poublic hearing Monday night this week. The planning commission had two members attending in person and the rest were participating electronically.
A few people wrote in and their remarks were read aloud. A few spoke in person, strongly against erecting the “ladder” style towers in residential areas. (See map) They argued the basic CUP pre-requisites are not being cleared by the city in its application. The towers are not “compatible” with the surrounding neighborhoods, they can not conform to setback mandates for lot line or roadway clearance, the towers don’t conform with the Comprehensive Plan and are not an allowed use in the rural residential zones the city wants to place them in.
An attorney representing landowners nearby the northeast corner tower site said his clients are prepared to litigate. He asked the city to take more time on these locations and “..do this in a more thoughtful and deliberate way.”
City Administrator Renae Fry said the application is the result of much scrutiny, finding co-location sites first where towers could be sited along with other structures like water towers and sirens. This Conditional Use Permit application for three locations is the result of narrowing down from 24 towers potentially.
A planning commissioner wondered if underground fiber internet has any possibility? He asked if the citizens might vote on bonding to make the underground system feasible.
Fry responded that the companies who would be involved have no interest in running fiber in rural areas of North Branch. Even if they did, she said research shows it would run $4 to $8 million for fiber, which would essentially “triple” North Branch property taxes.
North Branch Technology Director Darin Marsussen testified that students in the district are facing real difficulty with remote learning options. He said the district has distributed about 30 “hot spot” devices and many more families are having poor service still. A North Branch high school junior said she had to sit in a vehicle outside the high school, for hours, to get a strong enough connection to do her classwork.
Under the point to point system, the future customers who do not now have access to internet, will place receivers on their rooftops and get signals transmitted from the strategically placed 120 foot internet towers. The towers are not for cellphone service or any other uses.
Improvements in internet service could be seen by January 2021 if all goes according to plan, Fry told the planning commission. The city council just approved going out for bidding for the projects. (See story elsewhere in this paper.)
The next regular city council session is November 10, the soonest when this CUP recommendation would come before council.