Monday, January 18, 2010

Trustees at Babler Forest subdivision fight to keep cell phone tower out of neighborhood

The trustees of a rustic, wooded subdivision which straddles the St. Louis County line at Franklin County are unhappy about a cell phone tower proposed for their community.

Dave Geile is one of those trustees, who says the subdivision has been "thrown under the bus" by elected officials in Franklin County and by a former trustee. The former trustee is Michael Conrath, who leased some property in the subdivision to St. Charles Tower Company.

The tower company wants to build a 175-foot pole on the land to install cell phone antennas. Conrath, according to his former fellow trustees, opted for cash over community. The trustees say Conrath did not say anything about his plans to lease some land to the cell tower company.

They are angry at him for what they feel is a slap in their face. Repeated attempts to talk to Conrath about the issue were unsuccessful.

Officials at St. Charles Tower Company are also not talking. Calls to the company were greeted with a terse "no comment."

The tower company's president, according to records at the Missouri Secretary of State, is Robert Bell. He lives in St. Charles County and said he "knows nothing" about the cell phone tower dispute. A visit to Bell's large home on a private lake reveals no cell phone towers in view of his property.

The trustees at the Babler Forest subdivision thought they had successfully fought off the tower, and had won two critical votes in Franklin County. The votes were by the Planning and Zoning Board and the Board of Adjustment. In both boards, the cell tower was rejected as not conforming to the subdivision.

In fact, the cell tower would not be allowed in Wildwood either, which is the city that provides services to the part of Babler Forest, not in Franklin County. The cell phone tower company sued Franklin County, and court records show that St. Charles Tower often sues to get cell towers placed.

As part of a court settlement, Franklin County agreed to issue a conditional use permit to the tower company. That permit was issued a few weeks ago, but so far, no construction has begun. The trustees at Babler Forest say they are concerned the 175-foot tower, which is really a pole, will ruin their rustic subdivision. They say trucks will be using their narrow private road to service the tower, and there will be lights on the tower to warn aircraft.

Trustees say they will defend their subdivision as best they can and they've hired a lawyer to countersue the cell phone tower company.

Last week, a federal judge at the Eagleton Courthouse rejected their request for a temporary restraining order but has set a hearing for later this month to hear their arguments about the cell tower.

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