A once-majestic flagpole is now a tattered, 100-foot tower.
Kenosha’s John Thomey is seeking a resolution from city officials and is hoping for community support after a communications company removed a 24-foot-by-36-foot American flag from a cellphone tower located next to Kenosha Heating & Cooling, 4421 Sheridan Road.
Thomey, a part-owner of Kenosha Heating & Cooling, owns the property and is bound by a multi-year lease with SBA Communications, a Florida-based company that owns and operates wireless infrastructure used by mobile carriers and wireless broadband providers.
Currently under contract with Verizon Wireless, the tower was installed in 2011 under the conditions it would be disguised as a flagpole.
After several panels were damaged on the tower this winter due to high winds, SBA Communications removed the flag to prevent future damage, according to Thomey.
“There are fiberglass panels on the tower that became dislodged and fell,” Thomey said. “They said they’d address it and put it back up.
“Through their own admission, they said it was a poor design, which is why the panels became dislodged.”
SBA Communications contacted city officials and has requested to amend the conditional use permit, keeping the tower in place but removing the American flag, according to city development coordinator Brian Wilke.
The request will likely be presented in front of the city’s Plan Commission on June 6.
“(SBA) believes the flag is damaging the tower,” Wilke said. “At the time they got approval, the only way they could fit a tower at that site was with a stealth design for the height they wanted. They agreed to make it a flagpole. If it’s not flying a flag, it’s not a flagpole.”
Thomey said a mechanism to secure the flag is damaged and can be easily fixed. However, he’s not allowed to work on the tower and is unable to make the necessary repairs.
“I maintain the flag,” Thomey said. “I put it up and I try to watch the weather and take it down during high winds. I tried to maintain it and be a good steward.
“It looks nice when it’s up. I hope they allow us to keep flying it. It’s what they promised.”
Local residents also appreciate the flag and many were outraged — not knowing the entire story — that Thomey would have the audacity to take it down.
“I received a three-page note berating me saying I need to get this fixed if I’m any kind of man,” Thomey said. “I had neighbors saying ‘Shame on you.’
“I wish I could do something about it. I’m a proud American. The cost of the flags are about $400 to $500 apiece. I replace the rope and certain parts once a year.
“I would absolutely purchase the flags and maintain them. (SBA) is trying to take the hardware off of the tower so you can’t do that.”
Wilke said the city could face an uphill battle in requiring SBA Communications to attach an American flag to its tower. State statutes were rewritten since the tower was built, limiting municipalities’ ability to place restrictions on height, setbacks or aesthetics, according to Wilke.
“We can’t do anything to regulate these things,” Wilke said. “If someone wants to come in and put a 200-foot tower somewhere we don’t think is an appropriate location, there are very few things we can do to move it or reduce the height or anything like that.”