Amateur Radio – Success Stories

KA5NEE (now KT9OM)

To: Fred Hopengarten, K1VR
From: Tom Cox, KA5NEE/9
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002
Subject: successful application for variance


Thanks in very large part to your book, I just had a successful hearing with the Muncie-Delaware County (IN) Board of Zoning Appeals, receiving a variance to build a 130-foot total-height antenna support structure on my 0.89-acre suburban lot. The ordinance limits “amateur radio antennae” to 75 feet.

My application material is available online at: – (3.7 mb) – (380 kb) 

The first link is the almost-final draft of the application. The second (much larger) doc is the appendix of supporting documents. My application consisted of both documents, printed on my color printer (10 copies; took all day), punched and bound into report folders.

Below is an account of my part of the hearing, as written for the Muncie Area Amateur Radio Club’s newsletter — 

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KA5NEE: 5; Forces of Darkness: 0!

Club members may be aware that I applied for a variance from the Delaware County Zoning Ordinance that restricts “amateur radio antennae” to a height of 75 feet above finished grade. I applied for permission to put up a tower that was 120 feet tall, with a ten-foot mast at the top, for a total structural height of 130 feet.

Well, the hearing was last night (Thursday, 10/24/02), and I stood before the board to make my case. Two earlier appeals on the agenda were postponed at the applicant’s request, so I was second at bat, instead of fourth. The first case got a vote of four to one in favor, which was not good news for the applicant. Why? Two of the seven voting members of the board didn’t show up, and that left five to vote, which is just barely a quorum. One “nay” was all it took to cause the first case to be postponed to the next meeting, at the end of November. Even with such a clear majority of those present, the vote was neither an approval nor a disapproval, according to the board’s director, Marta Moody. It just meant that it had to be heard again at the next meeting, with a new vote including a larger number of committee members present.

Great, I thought, as I walked up to the podium. I’ll go through this presentation and have to come back next month and do it again, because one of these members was scared by a ham radio operator as a child, or because one of them knew someone who knew someone who had bad RFI from a CBer next door running a bootleg kilowatt with spurs from DC to light.

My presentation consisted of reading almost all of the “summary of supporting documents” section of my application to the board, verbatim, in my best half-lawyer/half-professor style. I covered all the bases (I hoped): the “escape clause” in the zoning ordinance that allows taller structures, including towers, if they aren’t in the vicinity of an airport or over 200 feet tall; some fundamentals of RF propagation (ie: Higher is Better); the FCC’s definition of Amateur Radio; RFI pre-emption; “reasonable accomodation” (the special status of our hobby in law and public policy); the need for emergency communications infrastructure, the lack of evidence for a concern about the effect of towers on real estate prices… all in under fifteen minutes. I read fast, but paused for some pseudo-spontaneous commentary at a couple of points, so I could see if they were still awake. They were. I finished with an appeal to their civic consciences, and gave the floor back to the chairman.

He asked the other members of the board if they had any questions for me, and two of them started laughing. One said, “I think he’s answered every question I thought of, and a few I didn’t think of.” The chairman gave me a stern look, and asked if I was aware that one of my neighbor’s houses was about 85 feet away from the base of a 130 foot tower. I said I had noticed that, and that I had a letter from that neighbor expressing support for the project. I said he didn’t care about that, but was concerned that the board would be liable if the tower fell on the neighbor’s house. I explained that the tower was a commercial model, very strong, and would be installed in a foundation of thirty yards of concrete. The wind required to bring that tower down on his roof would take my roof off too, and send his roof to Illinois by air mail, but I didn’t say that. The board’s director (a non-voting member) prompted the chairman to ask the board’s attorney if they would be liable in that situation, and he said no. Then the chairman asked for comments from the audience supporting or opposing the variance, and no one stood up (whee!). That one, troublesome neighbor, with a wide reputation in the ‘hood as a busybody, apparently had another appointment. T-o-o-o B-a-a-a-d.

Then they voted. Five yeas, zero nays. One member asked that conditions for approval be added, and I listened carefully. They were that I would remove my existing towers (including a couple of push-up masts, for reasons that still escape me) and that I would have a licensed engineer do the installation (which I had stated in the application). I didn’t really want to lose my push-ups, because they are handy for testing new antennas, but I saw them as a sacrifice that made me seem willing to compromise a little to get the approval. The old Rohn-Spaulding tower, the only real “tower” on the property, was destined to go, anyway. It will become a support for a yard light in another location, at which time it becomes invisible to the board, an “incidental” structure. I see losing the push-ups as sort of political voodoo — sacrificing a chicken to appease the zoning gods.

My official approval should come in the mail next week, and the next step is the building permit, which should be routine. After that, I need to make room for a backhoe, concrete trucks, a flatbed trailer full of tower, and a crane. Compared to the zoning hearing, that should be easy.

I should acknowledge that I had a great deal of help and encouragement from several sources to get this done. Many local hams offered moral — and written — support. Bill Gosnell, director of the Delaware County Emergency Management Administration, wrote a letter of support that was probably very influential. My most valuable, single source of information for how to prepare from the hearing was ANTENNA ZONING FOR THE RADIO AMATEUR, by Fred Hopengarten, K1VR. This ARRL book would be the smartest investment anyone could make to fight antenna restrictions in front of a zoning board. It also offers valuable advice on researching and negotiating the purchase of a new home with antenna building in mind, as well as dealing with building inspectors, and even (let us shudder together) going to court. The $49.95 price tag includes a CD-R full of references, templates for various forms and letters, and other material that would take months to gather up and organize, all searchable and ready to be customized to your situation.

Fred’s book makes interesting reading whether or not you intend to challenge the zoning authorities, with lots of humor and some amazing anecdotes and war stories. However, if you are serious about putting up a tall tower or fighting your homeowners’ association for the right to put up a tiny ground plane, the price of this book is ridiculously low for the value. In fact, I’d say squaring off against the antenna-phobic bureaucracy without this book is as dumb hiring a wino to take out your appendix, or having your neighbor’s boa constrictor babysit Fifi, your toy poodle. You may save a buck, but… Here, Fifi! Here, Fifi — HEY, WHAT’S THAT LUMP IN YOUR SNAKE’S STOMACH?

I hope my experience will encourage other hams in the county to apply for variances for tall towers. We need the infrastructure for emergencies, and we need to continue to educate local government as to the civic benefits of ham radio. I’d like to see several of these cases go to the board every year, just to foster a long-term change in the attitude of local officials. A one-for-one batting average doesn’t make me an expert, but I’m willing to help you prepare for the hearings and such, if you are willing to follow through. Onward and (especially) upward!

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I trust the above makes clear my debt to your book for the soon-to-be, tallest landmark in the neighborhood. I owe whatever presentation skills I have (written and, especially, oral) to the MS program at the Center for Information and Communication Sciences at Ball State University. The content that made the difference, that turned the board members glassy-eyed and submissive by the time I was finished (except for the chairman, the old curmudgeon), I owe to your book.

If any of this material would be useful in your next edition of Antenna Zoning for the Radio Amateur, I’d be honored to see it there.

73, and Thanks Again,

Tom Cox, KA5NEE/9
Muncie, IN