REPOST – We’re Here to Help You – Working with City Hall for a Tower Permit

What I wanted to do seemed simple and ordinary enough. It was only a 54 ft (16-1/2 meter) crank-down/tilt-over tower. Common, ordinary and should be a dawdle to get the permit to install, or so I thought.

Our QTH is a fantastic Wisconsin Small Town. A quiet place of 35,000 souls on the west shore of Lake Michigan, with excellent access to major metro areas & transport routes.

Though a small town, it is a community accustomed to good scale projects, and certainly my small tower shouldn’t be any issue, should it?

Well it was from a single aspect. It was the first antenna permit since our Little Town adopted antenna permitting language copied from a Big Town Model Code, and none of use really knew what this huge chunk of building code language really said or which part of the city was actually responsible for administering my request.

It was to be a learning experience for all of us.

The “Code” as explained by Building Inspection Department was simple, any antenna more than 15 ft higher than the tallest surrounding structure or if in any case taller than the height limit for the class of zoning at that spot, had to go through a full formal process, design review, planning commission, public postings… the whole works.

The “Code” as explained by City Engineering was similar, but some questions about ice loading, wind loading and engineering drawings came up.

The City Planning Department interpreted the “Code” to allow a taller antenna, but with a conditional use permit, planning approval and some insurance questions.

I figured it was time to do some studying and see if I could learn why they had different ideas, what the Building Code actually said and try and figure out who I should respond to at the city.

It is worth pointing out my antenna permit was the first since the new language was adopted, the city building inspector was retiring and the city engineer was in the midst of events leading towards his moving jobs, events that made my project a distraction at best.

They are all good folk and really were interested in helping.

I did order Wisconsin engineering drawings for the tower from the original manufacturer and already had a layout schematic drawing prepared for the digger & concrete folks. I wanted to be able to offered a copy to the City if they asked.

The “Code” actually was worded differently than much of the body of the City Building Code, with an impression that a model code was rolled into our city code. The language isn’t English in the way you & I might speak or right, but had those classic folded-over sentences that government writers employ.

Careful reading identified that:

  1. Any amateur was allowed one tower or antenna up to 70 ft in height without review, with some special exceptions
  2. no special engineering, public postings, planning review, planning commission approval or other city involvement was mandated
  3. the City Electrical Inspector was the person Amateur Radio Antenna Permits would go through and who’s department would inspect the installation for lightening/grounding safety.
  4. adding more towers after the first one “might” allow for planning review, but as I wasn’t interested in this I left this alone.
  5. Permitting was a typical $5 per $1000, with a $25 minimum.
  6. Standard Building Permit Forms were to be used.

That is all well and good, but how could I get all these departments to share in understanding the code in time to get the footings in before weather turned?

As some of the people I spoke to seemed pretty sure of what they told me, how could I help them get by “being incorrect” and get them on my team.

Thinking it through, I realized that a “Read this to me” exercise might just work, specially if I could spend time with the Department who actually had authority.

So I arranged to call on the Building Inspector to plead my case, but we ended up chatting instead by phone. I told him I was trying to work my way through the “Government Talk” wording of the code and asked if he could help explain some of the parts to me.

I had a task list, in order of what I wanted to walk him through.

At the start of this conversation his department’s understanding was that I was limited to 15 ft about the house, max, without full planning process. His take was that the City Engineer’s approval was also needed.

We had a great conversation, reading bits of the code, discussing what it said, and all in a sequence I had penciled out ahead. We went through definitions, rules, Amateur exceptions, zoning… the gamut.

I can’t tell you how pleased when I asked him “After reading through all this, what do you think it says, and couldn’t my tower just go ahead?”, that his response was “What it means is that I will call you back in a couple hours after talking it through here, as it looks like you are good to go.

He did a fantastic job of working through the material with me and with working with the City Hall team. I’m not certain what all went on, but I was told to get my form in, a check for $25 (minimum) and that an Electrical Permit would be waiting for me when I got there.

They were as usual absolutely true to their word and I had my Permit in Hand.

The result, with the permit Issued the Installation went right on immediately. No point in allowing enough time to have anything second guessed.

The Principles that helps make everyone happy:

  1. Learn what the rules are
  2. Present your request clearly
  3. Help everyone through an issues
  4. Never “tell” them they are wrong, but “ask for clarification” – “does this mean…”
  5. Remember it is better to let the process happen so everyone “saves face” than be right but end up in a fight needlessly.
  6. Have a Plan-B & Plan-C which can include dropping the hammer if needed.

When you treat people the way you want to be treated, give them time to work through the issues until they can understand the request clearly, and give them the respect you’d like them to show you, things seem to work out.

On Plan-B and Plan-C I was prepared to spend the time to do a written presentation and try that if my oral hadn’t worked. Plan-C was to go to the Planning Commission and plead my case.

I did have one other interesting experience out the exercise. Once the tower was up I mounted the two Log Periodic Antennas but did not cable them up.

So they were on the mast, but without feed lines.

I left them this way for eight weeks while I planned my grounding, cabling and switching for the tower.

I had feedback pretty quick on that my Ham Radio was bothering people’s cable TV (specially Channel 2) which I let fester a bit. I then mentioned to one of the folks who expressed an interest and mentioned he had heard that my installation was causing RFI that I’d like to show him the installation, as I wanted his advice on how to run the cables to the tower. The puzzled look on his face grew more pronounced when I mentioned how it seemed silly to have the antennas in the air without any way to use them, even for reception, as they were not yet wired. The RFI question of course went away and hasn’t reappeared.

Get the city and your neighbors on your team, let them down softly if they have a wrong idea (RFI from unconnected antennas, code interpretations different than the actual text of the code) and you can hopefully introduce them to the best side of Radio Amateurs.



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One thought on “REPOST – We’re Here to Help You – Working with City Hall for a Tower Permit

  1. Len Revelle says:

    Excellent article. As a retired police officer (Lake Co., Il) I was amazed at how many villages approve ordinances but arbitratily affect them (as you found).

    The Village I worked for actually told a friend he could not put up a tower because no structures taller than 22′ were allowed. Since I knew there was NO ordinance germain to towers at the time I suggested putting it up (using good paractices) and let them react. The Village’s attourney gave me some greif until I reminded him all two-story homes in that subdivision violated that height restriction. A new antenna ordinance, that could be lived with, was soon adopted.

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