Whispering Pines’ name is practically a calling card to those who only want to hear the soft rustling of trees in the wind, and new arrivals quickly find out that’s not false advertising.
After all, there’s very little chance that the village’s tranquility will be disturbed by someone talking on a cell phone as they walk down the street.
Though reception varies throughout the village, in Whispering Pines it’s notoriously hard to get a signal. That could be on the way to changing, however, if tweaks to the village ordinances approved this week are sufficient to make building a cell tower worthwhile.
On Wednesday, the village council voted to raise the maximum height allowed for wireless communication facilities in Whispering Pines and its immediate environs. Currently, none exist within a mile of the village’s limits — although they’re allowed at heights up to 80 feet.
“Personally, I think it’s ludicrous that we don’t have a cell tower,” said resident Glenn Bernhard. “I understand that we want to keep Whispering Pines nice and all that stuff, but families are paying $30 a month just to have a landline. It shouldn’t be that you have to have a landline to have communication. That’s wrong.”
Though Whispering Pines does not have a formal request to install a cell tower on the table, residents are hoping that raising the maximum height allowed to 120 feet might change that.
According to Linda Christopher, the village clerk and zoning administrator, she’s fielded a number of inquiries.
“Cell tower companies laugh when I tell them our maximum height is 80 feet,” she said. “That would be a total waste of money because the signal wouldn’t even get out of the pine trees.”
Cell towers are still only allowed under a special use permit, so the village council will review any requests on a case-by-case basis.
“We do require stealth technology, so anything that came before the village would have to look like a pine tree,” said Christopher.
Residents who spoke during the public hearing on the proposed amendment were overwhelmingly in favor.
“We see things of that height every single day,” said Sue Leary. “They’re part of our landscape, yet we don’t have cell service. It limits our options living in this village, in terms of what we can do, because we don’t have reception.”
Though council members Dawn Heddings and Colin Webster expressed personal misgivings, all four sitting members voted to raise the allowed height of cell towers. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Zschoche pointed out that it’s hard for people to reach Whispering Pines’ fire rescue department without a signal.
“Our first responders really need it,” said Zschoche. “They really need cell service in the village.”
In other business, the village council voted to set fees for homeowners who want to use their properties for commercial events. In October, the council introduced permits for those interested in leasing their properties of two acres or more for short-term events. This week, the council voted to add a one-time $75 fee establishing an address as an event venue, and a $25 fee for event.
Heddings, citing the number of residents who have objected to the idea of event venues in Whispering Pines, cast the dissenting vote. There was little public comment before the village voted to allow homeowners to use their properties as venues on a for-profit basis.
Since the vote, though, residents have raised concerns that the move will encourage commercial activity in the village, create a nuisance, attract traffic, and demand extra policing.
Earlier in the meeting Wednesday, Heddings proposed rescinding event venues as a permitted use for residential properties. But Zschoche and council member Denise Racey declined in a vote to add that discussion to Wednesday’s agenda.
“If you have a party at your house, and people are out and about doing things, it’s the same situation,” Racey said. “I could have a personal party at my house and have 100, 150, 200 people. I could have noise up until 11 p.m. if I wanted to… it has happened when we had kids in the house.”
The village council is unlikely to revisit the issue of event venues before its March meeting.