A Southfield-based company’s proposal to erect seven 199-foot radio broadcast towers on the border of Wixom and Milford Township has caused a stir among Wixom residents and city officials.
Birach Broadcasting Corporation owns and operates a network of AM radio stations in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Owner Sima Birach is requesting a rezoning, special use and site plan approval for the towers to be located off Maple Road, just west of the Wixom Public Works facility on Charms Road. The towers would be visible to residents along the roadway and those in the Wexford Mews subdivision, in addition to residents in neighboring Milford Township.
Birach purchased two parcels totalling more than 61 acres for the purpose of relocating the towers from Fenton to Milford Township.
“(Birach) bought the property before it was rezoned, and what business person would buy with the potential to start up a business without having the knowledge it has to be rezoned? He put the cart before the horse and it doesn’t make good sense,” said Wixom Mayor Kevin Hinkley.
Over 40 Wixom residents, in addition to city officials, filled Milford Township’s Thursday, Aug. 30 Planning Commission meeting to voice opposition to the project.
“The whole idea of putting in radio towers is against the (Milford) master plan and violates ordinances,” said Wixom resident Jessie Durkin. “I’m not sure if Milford residents are apathetic or don’t know about it, so we’re trying to blanket the area with fliers to get the information out.”
However, Milford Township Planning Commission Chairman David Kulp rebuts Durkin’s claim that the project would violate township ordinances.
“We heard many issues not in the purview of the Planning Commission,” he said. “The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and FCC (Federal Communications Commission) are not our responsibility. We are working within our ordinances.”
Milford Township planners voted to postpone any action on the issue until this month because, according to Kulp, the commission felt it needed more information and resident notification of the radio broadcast towers project.
The Wixom City Council had previously sent a resolution to the Milford Planning Commission stating its concerns.
Kulp disagreed with the concerns outlined in the Wixom resolution, stating that the proposed land use is permitted by Milford Township ordinances.
“Elements of the ordinance were read out of context. That is their perspective,” Kulp said. “The resolution also cited elements of our township master plan use, but the master plan is more like a guide and it is not a regulation. The towers can go in that area if they meet all of the criteria in the ordinance. You have to agree that the area can be rezoned as a wireless overlay zone, provided it meets all of the criteria.
“The specific site plan also has to meet all of its criteria,” he said.
Hinkley attempted to sway the Milford commission by explaining that the proposed towers’ location is the issue.
“I wanted to extend the olive branch,” he said. “We’ve worked alongside Milford Township on many initiatives. (The towers) are wrong for our community and wrong for that location when there are other industrial sites.”
Several impacted Wixom residents complained that they were never notified of any Milford Planning Commission meetings in May.
“Supposedly Oakland County sent Milford Township a list of property owners within 1,000 feet of the parcels, but no one we’ve talked to got notified,” Durkin said.
Kulp said that it was up to the applicant to notify impacted residents.
“We didn’t have to notify residents, but we made sure they were were notified (if they lived) within 300 feet (of the proposed towers) by taking the step to have the applicant notify them,” Kulp said.
Bill Durkin said he fears Milford Township will eventually approve the proposal despite area residents’ concerns.
“They aren’t denying or approving the proposal, but they seem to be leaning toward approval,” Bill Durkin said. “The developer was told to bring in a photo of what (the towers) would look like and it was a joke. It wasn’t drawn to scale and didn’t account for clear cutting of the trees.”
Wixom officials say that the proposal does not meet rezoning requirements since proposals must be “consistent with the adopted master plan” and “compatible with the existing land use pattern.” Currently, the district is primarily single-family residential and small-scale commercial operations. The reconfiguration would contrast sharply with existing land uses, Wixom officials argue.
According to Milford Township’s master plan, the goal is to maintain the rural integrity of the area.
“The master plan is a guide, which is not to say someone can’t come in with a land use or alternative to rezoning,” Kulp said.
If the proposal goes forward, residents fear that the area as a whole will become an eyesore.
“(The towers’ installation would require) a 200-foot radius of clear cutting (trees), which would take it to our wetlands, so instead of looking at pristine land, residents will now look at seven towers visible from just about anywhere in Wixom,” Bill Durkin said. “It will be atrocious.”
According to Wixom City Planner Carmine Avantini, the application fails to meet the intent of Milford Township’s zoning ordinance that seeks to “minimize the negative visual impact of wireless communication facilities on neighborhoods; community landmarks; historic sites and buildings; natural beauty areas; and public rights-of-way.”
“Our ordinance states that we should encourage co-location whenever possible so towers aren’t spread all over, but that’s not applicable in this case,” Kulp said.
Wixom officials also dispute the Birach’s assertion that the towers will not have a negative impact on property values.
“The studies they reference are for cell towers and high-tension power lines, not a radio broadcasting tower farm,” Hinkley said. “Seven 199-foot-tall radio broadcasting towers at a single, concentrated, semi-rural location will have a greater impact on the value of neighboring houses than a single cell tower or power lines. In addition, the other tower locations they cite in the region were built before the abutting residential homes were constructed, not after.”
Other residential concerns relate to public health and communication interference.
“There is a health issue that they gloss over with radio waves,” Jessie Durkin said. “They don’t fade away after 3 feet and studies show different types of cancer and radiation as a result. There is also an interference issue that will mess up telephone service. These should be considered before making a decision.”
Kulp added that more meetings are upcoming, including the next Milford Planning Commission meeting and public hearing on Sept. 27.
“As chairman, I’m going to do my best to get a vote before us. We need to make a timely decision, whether it’s yes or no,” Kulp said. “I understand why some of our neighbors in Wixom are concerned, but the applicant has also tried to meet requests that Milford Township has made and address residents’ concerns.”
Staff writer Michael Shelton contributed to this report.