Mendota Heights looks to improve cellphone service

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 2, 2014 - 7:55 AM

It’s a frequent complaint in Mendota Heights, and officials are looking at ways to improve it, perhaps by adding towers.

City officials in Mendota Heights have put improved cellphone coverage in the community on their “to-do” list for the coming year, seeking to remedy a long-standing headache for residents.

At a recent workshop, the City Council directed city staffers to begin looking for ways to increase the number of cellphone towers.

Two city-owned properties — the town’s water tower and a monopole on Northland Drive and Hwy. 55 — currently have antennae for multiple wireless companies. Like many cities, Mendota Heights has discovered that tall structures are lucrative sources of revenue from such companies as T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint/Nextel that lease them as places to park their equipment. Cellular phone antenna revenue for the city totaled $127,000 last year, according to City Administrator Justin Miller.

Miller said other antennae are scattered throughout town in a few other sites, including the top of Henry Sibley High School.

“It’s one of the more common complaints we do get from people in the community, especially in the past five years,” Miller said of cellphone coverage. “People are getting more dependent on cellphones, and it’s something they expect.”

Part of the problem in Mendota Heights is its rolling topography, which gives the community its pastoral character but can be an obstacle course for cellphone signals.

“We have unique geography, quite a few hills and valleys. It makes cellular coverage a challenge, Miller said.”

Karen Smith, a spokeswoman for Verizon, agreed that Mendota Heights’ terrain could present issues with cellular coverage. “The signal isn’t going to travel up and down. It’s going to travel whatever direction it’s pointed,” she said.

Smith said other problems with adding cellphone towers in Mendota Heights include zoning restrictions in residential areas and the city’s proximity to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. She said Verizon currently has no new projects planned in the area.

T-Mobile also has no immediate plans to add antennae in the city, according to Mark Wilson, national external affairs manager. The company has two sites in Mendota Heights.

Like other companies, T-Mobile uses computer modeling of its network to determine where upgrades are needed, he said. “We couple that with customer demand. If we have been receiving calls from customers asking for better coverage, that’s factored into the equation as well.”

Plans to contact brokers

Miller said he expects the staffers will begin contacting brokers that work with wireless companies on selecting sites for the their cellular antennae, seeing what could be done to get the businesses to put towers in the community. There’s no specific timetable to recruit carriers, but Miller said he would like them to be contacted soon.

That approach was discussed at a City Council meeting last summer, when Megan Roach, a resident who operates her consulting business out of her home, told council members she had ongoing issues with cellphone reception despite changing carriers, phones and getting special modems.

Roach declined interview requests, but minutes of the council meeting indicate she also asked why requests to place cell towers previously had been denied by the city. Mayor Sandra Krebsbach told her that a request to install a tower at Mendota Plaza had been denied but that the antennae subsequently were installed at Sibley and the Eagle Ridge Condominiums.

Miller said the city has heard from other residents who believe the city has not been receptive to cellular towers.

“That’s not really the case,” he said.

City documents show that two of 15 requests since 2000 have been denied, while one request to install equipment on the water tower was withdrawn by the carrier.

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