Board tables vote on contentious cell tower

County Attorney Chester Jones reviews a mockup prepared by homeowner Geoffrey Studds showing how his mountain view will be altered if the proposed cell tower is approved and constructed.

Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer

Verizon agent Ben Herrick, leasing and zoning specialist for Michigan-based Faulk & Foster, read Tuesday from a seven-page response to commissioner and public questions from a July 9 public hearing regarding a proposed cell phone tower to be constructed at 575 CR Cabe Road.

Commissioners voted to delay until their September meeting a decision on approval of a new Verizon Wireless cell tower at 575 CR Cabe Road in order to evaluate presentations by an affected neighbor and packets of photos, sketches and information given by both sides.

“I’m questioning their explanation of propagation in general,” said Geoffrey Studds, a former NASA technician and resident of 285 CR Cabe Road, who built on his July 9 public hearing claim that his quality of life and home value will be negatively impacted by the proposed 175-foot cell tower, and that it can be relocated to still meet community needs.

Studds used publicly available Verizon planning documents, photographs and County GIS aerial images compiled and distributed to board members to poke holes in Verizon’s argument that the tower size and location could not be altered.

He also made the case that moving the tower 600 feet away, to a location across the street from his property where it would affect far fewer residents, was within the geographic box defined by Verizon as necessary for a tower, on property owned by the same owner, even though it was at a slightly lower elevation. He also noted, along with other residents, that his 4G cell phone coverage is defined by Verizon as “excellent.”

“I don’t understand the logic of this box unless they are misstating network capabilities,” he told commissioners, making the case that Verizon was constructing the tower only to reinforce existing network coverage.

Clark’s Chapel resident Rick Reid called for commissioners to reject the construction outright: “We don’t need it in Clark’s Chapel, there are very few benefits.”

Daniel Jimison of 437 CR Cabe Road said he has driven around using a phone application to test which towers are providing his signal and at what strength.

“We have excellent cell phone service,” he said. “Do you really need a tower at Clark’s Chapel?”

Verizon makes its case

Faulk & Foster leasing and zoning specialist Ben Herrick, representing Verizon, was asked to read out loud for a packed meeting room of public attendees the entire seven-page letter he sent to commissioners August 9 responding to questions posed by the public and the commissioners a month prior.

“This tower would benefit everybody using Verizon Wireless in this area and other areas,” he said. Anything less than the 170-foot proposed tower would provide “almost no benefit” he added.

Herrick’s letter dismissed one by one the proposed alternate sites suggested by residents and commissioners at the July 9 meeting, saying they did not meet the setbacks and fallbacks required by the county ordinance, nor did they fall within the box defined as Verizon’s need area.

He also read from a letter written by Verizon wireless RF engineer Bilal Shaikh of the company’s Charlotte office which stated the two main reasons for the tower: demand in the area and co-location by other carriers.

Herrick said a shorter tower would not provide the level of service needed. Color imaging maps attached to the Verizon Charlotte office letter show a far reduced coverage area with a 100-foot tower versus a 170-foot tower, due to the effects of forest density.

Herrick also said an FCC tower search showed there were no alternate sites already in existence in a 2-mile radius.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale asked about so-called stealthing techniques such as artificial limbs on the tower so that it blends into the natural environment, to which Herrick said such measures would require a much larger base and be cost prohibitive.

Commissioner Karl Gillespie asked what level of cellular service would be possible, and Herrick said the antennas themselves determine service. Presently, Verizon is installing 4G antennas, but the tower could receive 5G antennas when the company is ready to install them.

“Don’t get me wrong, we want these towers,” Beale said after making the Verizon agent assure that if the tower went unused it would be dismantled in accordance with the county’s ordinance.

“The county has adopted an ordinance and we meet every aspect of the ordinance,” said Herrick just moments before the public hearing was closed and a vote appeared imminent.

Commissioner Paul Higdon remarked that no matter where the tower is built there will be disappointed homeowners, and it was the board’s duty to simply assess if the tower met its ordinance requirements.

To which Beale said, “It’s also up to us to recognize the people in the community regardless of what the ordinance says.”

Beale motioned and commissioners approved a proposal to take a vote at the Board of Commissioners September meeting in order to allow time to review the materials that only became available to the board on Tuesday.