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SBA Towers V, LLC v. City of Madison Board of Zoning Appeals

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

May 10, 2017

SBA TOWERS V, LLC, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Plaintiff SBA Towers V, LLC's (“SBA”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Filing No. 38) and a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment[1] filed by Defendant City of Madison Board of Zoning Appeals (“the Board”) (Filing No. 48). SBA alleges that the Board violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 332(c) (“Telecommunications Act”), when it denied SBA's application to construct a 190 foot wireless communication tower in Madison, Indiana. (Filing No. 1 at 1.) For the following reasons, the Court DENIES SBA's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and GRANTS the Board's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Count 1 of SBA's Complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts in this matter are not in dispute. SBA provides infrastructure to support wireless voice and data products and services. (Filing No. 39-2 at 1.) SBA creates and maintains a network of “cell sites” upon which wireless carriers may place antennas and related equipment designed to send and receive radio signals. (Filing No. 39-2 at 2.)

         SBA submitted applications for both a Special Exception and a Variance Permit to the Board to construct a new wireless communication facility located at 1885 Farmers Trail, Madison, Indiana. (Filing No. 49-3 at 1-2.) The purpose of the facility was to improve signal coverage in and around the City of Madison. (Filing No. 39-2 at 2.) The proposed tower was a 190-foot wireless telecommunications monopole with a 5- foot lightning rod. (Filing No. 49-3 at 12.) The area in which SBA wanted to place its tower is designated a Residential Agriculture area under the City of Madison Zoning Ordinance (the “Zoning Ordinance”). (Filing No. 49-3 at 1-2.) The area is commonly known as Ryker's Ridge. (Filing No. 49-2 at 8.)

         A. Zoning Ordinance

         The Zoning Ordinance provides that all wireless telecommunications facilities shall require a Special Exception Approval from the Board of Zoning. (Filing No. 49-5 at 1.) Placing a telecommunication tower in a Residential Agricultural area requires that the facility must: (1) be set back from any property line a distance equal to at least 100% of the tower; (2) not exceed a maximum height of 100 feet with accessories not exceeding fifteen-feet; (3) provide a minimum of three (3) additional antenna sites; (4) be of a monopole design; and (5) be camouflaged through the use of color, materials and landscaping as specified by the Department of Planning and Zoning. (Filing No. 39-4 at 1.)

         Residential Agricultural area requirements also state that all wireless telecommunications facilities meet all other requirements of the Zoning Ordinance. (Filing No. 39-4 at 1.) The Zoning Ordinance also delineates nine standards in the Zoning Ordinance for General Standards Applicable to All Conditional Uses (“Conditional Uses”):

1. Is in fact a conditional use as established under the provisions of Article V and appears on the Official Schedule of Uses adopted by Section 7.00 for the zoning district involved;
2. Will be harmonious with and in accordance with the general objectives, or with any specific objective of the City's comprehensive plan and/or the zoning ordinance;
3. Will be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained so as to be harmonious and appropriate in appearance with the existing or intended character of the general vicinity and that such use will not change the essential character of the same area;
4. Will not be hazardous or disturbing to existing or future neighboring uses;
5. Will be served adequately by essential public facilities and services such as highways, streets, police and fire protection, drainage structures, refuse disposal, water and sewer, and schools; or that the persons or agencies responsible for the establishment of the proposed use shall be able to provide adequately any such services;
6. Will not create excessive additional requirements at public expense for public facilities and services and will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of the community;
7. Will not involve uses, activities processes, materials, equipment and conditions of operation that will be detrimental to any persons, property, or the general welfare by reason of excessive production of traffic, noise, smoke, fumes, glar[e], or odors;
8. Will have vehicular approaches to the property which shall be so designed as to not create an interference with traffic on surrounding public thoroughfares; and
9. Will not result in the destruction, loss, or damage of natural, scenic, or historic features of major importance.

(Filing No. 39-3 at 119.)

         B. Zoning Hearing

         SBA presented its applications to the Board on August 17, 2015. (Filing No. 49-2 at 3.) The details of the hearing were documented in the Madison City Board of Zoning Appeals' Minutes (“Minutes”), which included the deliberations and voting by Board members. (Filing No. 49-2.)

         SBA presented its case through its attorney, Richard Riley, who gave the Board materials from previous applications filed by SBA to demonstrate “the amount of work, time, and effort that has gone into siting this particular facility.” (Filing No. 49-2 at 3.) Riley also showed the Board a three minute video. (Filing No. 49-2 at 3.) Riley then detailed the various steps taken to find a suitable location for a wireless facility. (Filing No. 49-2 at 3.) He stated that the tower was needed to improve 4G coverage and call reliability in the area. ...

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