The Park Ridge City Council has agreed to a deal that will pay the city $2,000 for each new utility box installed by AT&T as the company looks to expand its U-verse cable, Internet and telephone services to the community.
But some elected officials remain wary about the proposed locations of some of the large cabinet boxes and their impacts.
With 1st Ward Alderman Joe Sweeney and 7th Ward Alderman Marty Maloney absent, the council on Sept. 3 voted 5-0 in favor of a “landscape agreement” with AT&T. The company has most recently proposed installing video-ready access devices at up to 13 locations on parkways and public utility easements on private property during the first year of an initiative to offer U-verse service within the city.
Under the agreement, the city could receive $26,000 if all 13 boxes are installed. But, despite its name, language in the agreement does not require the city to use the money on landscaping or screening around the boxes which measure about 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
“As I understand it, we can take the money and run,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Jim Smith.
Whether the city will indeed use the funds for other purposes has not yet been decided.
The reimbursement will also offset permit and application fees and other costs associating with installing the devices that AT&T is asking the city waive.
Due to a state law, AT&T does not need city council approval to install equipment boxes in the right-of-way, said Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim.
A list of 13 addresses for the first round of VRAD boxes were presented to the City Council on Aug. 26. James Maurer, vice president of external affairs for AT&T, said the locations “are not set in stone” and can be moved as long as it is “technically feasible” to do so.
Fifth Ward Alderman Dan Knight said he was concerned about two proposed locations within his ward, one of which is at the end of an alley.
“I have serious concerns about the sight-line issue,” he said, particularly if the city decides to plant arborvitae shrubs around the boxes, which was initially suggested.
“Wherever it is technically feasible we will move them, so they don’t cause the obstructions that are a concern,” Maurer said.
Cumberland Avenue resident Bret Brania, who expects to have one of the AT&T boxes on his property, also said he was concerned about the close proximity to the corner of the alley and Stewart Avenue. He also asked when residents would be notified that boxes are to be installed near their homes.
Maurer said he believed AT&T will notify residents once permits are applied for and granted.
Elected officials do not issue city permits; that is done by staff. But Mayor David Schmidt stated that in this case it would “circumvent the whole process” of aldermen and citizens providing input on the locations chosen for the boxes.
“We don’t want to see individual permits being approved without us knowing,” Schmidt said. He added that he believed the City Council has the right to establish a policy for how the boxes’ permits are handled.
Third Ward Alderman Jim Smith said objections to box locations would just keep pushing them to other neighboring locations.
“I see an infinite amount of delay and ill will here,” he said. “My recommendation is let AT&T do what they want.”
The City Council agreed to discuss the issue of the box locations further during the Sept. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting. Sixth Ward Alderman Marc Mazzuca said he hoped a mechanism would be in place so residents can dispute a proposed location.
Though some Park Ridge residents living close to the Niles and Chicago borders already have access to U-verse, AT&T last expressed interest in offering the service to the greater Park Ridge community in 2009. Though a landscaping agreement was approved by the council, AT&T ultimately did not expand to Park Ridge. Currently, Comcast and Wide Open West are the two cable television providers available to residents.
Schmidt stated that concerns over box locations is not an attempt by the city to keep AT&T out.
“We want to do what we can to protect the residents from safety issues,” he said.