County Grants Exemption for Towers 120 Feet or Shorter

The exemption means fixed wireless internet service could become more available

An exemption advocated by those striving to create greater broadband access in Door County was granted by the Door County Board of Supervisors.

The 20-1 vote cast Tuesday during the board’s monthly meeting meant that none of the provisions in the county’s tower ordinance would apply to communications support structures “with an overall height of 120 feet or less, with an area at the base no greater than 9 square feet if guyed or 36 square feet if free-standing and used (i.e., actually supports the equipment and components, including antennas necessary) to provide wireless broadband service” according to the language of the approved amendment.  

The exemption means that the smaller towers, such as those that provide fixed wireless access, will no longer be treated in the same way as larger cell or radio towers under the county’s Chapter 14 ordinance that regulates all communications towers. Those regulations were considered financially prohibitive by the only company that provides that service locally, Door County Broadband.

The average height of trees in Door County is about 100 feet, according to County Board Chair Dave Lienau, who introduced the exemption amendment. 

“That’s how we came up with the 120 feet,” Lienau said later in the afternoon, following the board’s decision. “We also put a base on there to prevent a larger tower taking advantage of exemptions meant for something else.”

Liberty Grove resident David Studebaker had been advocating for the exemption and drove a public-awareness campaign about the issue. County Board supervisors said they received significant emails and telephone calls prior to Tuesday’s meeting from residents, school districts and local businesses that wanted more internet options and saw the county as standing in the way of that. 

Tuesday’s result wasn’t entirely what Studebaker had proposed – he wanted the exemption for all towers shorter than 200 feet – but he said the board’s decision would make a difference. 

“While a significant portion of new fixed wireless towers need to be 160 to 190 feet tall, the change adopted this morning does allow for new fixed wireless towers to be constructed in those areas of the county where 120 feet or less is adequate,” Studebaker said.

By granting the exemption, the county board changed what the Door County Resource Planning Committee (RPC) had recommended. That body had modified the ordinance to clarify language and make it easier for fixed wireless towers to be constructed, but it didn’t recommend exemption.

That changed when, prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, Lienau and Susan Kohout, District 6 supervisor and vice chair, sat down with Door County Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas and County Administrator Ken Pabich and, as Lienau said, “worked through things and figured things out and came up with this [exemption] amendment.”

Kohout stated on the floor Tuesday that a tower here and there would not fix Door County’s broadband issues. However, the public perception existed that “we are in the way.” If the supervisors passed the exemption, “maybe that work group [of local residents and organizations] can go back to working on the bigger picture.”

Only David Enigl, RPC chair and District 17 supervisor, cast a dissenting vote against the exemption on the floor Tuesday. He said he wanted proof of the complaints that the ordinance created restrictions that made it financially prohibitive to construct fixed wireless towers under the ordinance and “not just recognize outcry” from the public.

Though the exemption passed, it’s considered only one step toward providing internet access to all who need it within the county.

“I’m pleased that the county board listened to the community and made a move toward making fixed wireless internet services more available,” Studebaker said. “Much more needs to be done to actually have more service. That will require an expanded investment in time and money by individuals, businesses and government.”