Armatage to get another cell phone tower when city settles suit

The city of Minneapolis and VoiceStream Wireless are near settling a lawsuit that will allow the company to build a cell phone tower in Armatage.

In June, the City Council denied VoiceStreams’ application for a conditional use permit to erect a 60-foot cell phone tower at the Citgo gas station, 5400 Penn Ave. S.

VoiceStream sued in federal court saying the city’s action violated the law. The federal

government regulates the telecommunications industry and has limited cities’ powers over such things as cell phone tower placement, it said.

At a Dec. 28 meeting, the City Council directed the city attorney’s office to seek a settlement. Accepting the settlement will require council action.

The proposed settlement would give VoiceStream a conditional use permit and protect the city from having to pay VoiceStream’s attorney’s fees and the $50,000 in damages it sought, said Carol Lansing, assistant city attorney.

The settlement hasn’t been filed with the court, Lansing said. VoiceStream first wanted to navigate the conditional use permit process and have a building permit in hand.

The settlement offer came after the city determined it likely would lose the lawsuit and have to pay attorney’s fees, she said. Three similar cases in federal court had all gone against municipalities.

Neighbors have opposed the tower, primarily for aesthetic reasons. Another cell phone tower — run by Qwest Wireless — is already approved and being installed.

"I can look out my window and see one tower already," said Dean Rubuffoni, a 30-year resident of the Armatage neighborhood.

He was disappointed that

news of the proposed settlement didn’t come first from City Councilmember Barret Lane’s (13th Ward) office, Rubuffoni said.

Lane said he planned to notify the neighborhood once a final settlement was reached and he could discuss specifics. "It’s not a final settlement yet," Lane said.

Lane, who is an attorney, voted with the rest of the council to pursue a settlement. "The problem here is the placement of the tower is controlled by federal law," Lane said. "There wasn’t really any way we could defend this and not risk a substantial attorney fees payout."