When is a front door not a front door?
That is among the questions Wheaton City Council members believe they need answered before deciding whether to approve local ordinance changes that would allow AT&T to offer it's U-verse Internet, television, phone services throughout the city.
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AT&T currently has four utility cabinets in the city and would like to add as many as 11 more smaller cabinets on residential rights of way.
"Since the city first enacted its regulations in regard to this matter the size of the U-verse cabinets have been reduced from their very large size to a medium large size that almost meet our current regulations," said City Manager Don Rose.
The smaller boxes come very close to complying with the city's ordinance that dictates the size of above ground utility cabinets, but some council members are concerned some residents may inadvertently end up with a cabinet in their front yards. Some residents' homes and doors face the right of way instead of what would typically be considered the front yard. The situation is most common on corner lots.
"My concern again continues to be the ability of AT&T to park one of these boxes in somebody's front yard. I'm particularly sensitive to that with respect to a corner lot, so I want to understand how this works," said North District Councilman Phil Suess. "Forget the zoning. You're basically parking one of these boxes in someone's front yard, and I don't think we should be doing that."
To ensure that doesn't happen, and make sure they have a legal definition of a front yard, council members agreed to table the issue until the Aug. 5 council meeting where the amendment is likely to be amended in favor of AT&T. Some council members also said they were concerned over AT&T's policy of not maintaining landscaping that would be required to be installed to hide the cabinets.
According to memos included in the council members' board packets, AT&T has been requesting placement of their larger-sized cabinets on city righ-of-ways since 2005 when they launched Project Lightspeed, the former name for its current U-verse service. The city instead enacted a temporary moratorium on above ground utilities. AT&T sued to have the moratorium thrown out but later dropped the suit in 2009.
"I think it's run its course. We have worked through this for years, and we're probably one of the last (communities to have it)," Mayor Michael Gresk said. "You do get AT&T U-Verse in certain parts of the town but only in very few homes. Its time has come."