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Local News

May 15, 2014

Meeting about phone tower held

Lack of zoning regulations in Laurel County causes heat in public hearing

CORBIN — By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer

A lack of zoning regulations in Laurel County caused some heat in a public hearing concerning the construction of a new cell phone tower.

Tuesday night’s meeting of the London-Laurel County Joint Planning Commission saw around 30 people gather at a public hearing concerning a new cell phone tower being built on Ridings Mitchell Creek Road near a residential area. Issues concerning a lack of zoning regulation in Laurel County came up following a review of the application submitted by AT&T Representative David Pike to allow the construction of the tower.

According to London Building Inspector Doug Gilbert, Laurel County has no zoning outside of the London city limits. Chairman Dane Gilpin said ordinances concerning planning and zoning in the county were handed down from the state, and tended to be vague at best. Even the city of London does not have any ordinances banning the construction of cell phone towers in residential areas. This means cell phone towers can be built close to homes and neighborhoods.

The hearing began with a presentation by Pike in which he amended his original application for the tower. The tower will be 199 feet in height, consisting of a 190 foot monopole and a 9-foot lightning arrestor, and is to be located at 62 Ridings Mitchell Creek Road in London. According to Pike, the lot is vacant.

Nikita Moye with Kriss Lowry and Associates read a list of answers to concerns with his original application. According to the commission, Pike failed to mention in the original application how he would dismantle the tower if necessary. Moye said he would remove all above-ground structures.

The application also requested a structure that exceeded the height limit placed on structures built in Laurel County. The tower is meant to be 199 feet while county ordinances place a maximum height of 100 feet on structures. Pike requested a waiver on the height limit due to the fact that 199 feet is the minimum at which the cell phone tower can function effectively.

There were also concerns about the signage that would be on the tower, to which Moye said the Federal Communications Commission required the posting of small signs on the side of cell phone towers.

Moye said that based on the report with its modifications, approval of the application is recommended.

“We have a critical radio frequency need,” Pike said. “This tower’s location has been carefully mapped to work with existing structures.”

Pike said he sought alternative locations for the structure, but there were no existing structures available in the area and so the only choice was to construct a new tower. He added the chosen site meets all regulations save the height requirement, and he has requested a waiver for the height requirement.

“There is no legal grounds for this commission to turn down my application,” Pike said.

The tower is close to a residential area, but Pike said the tower will be constructed to be safe in storms and will be able to withstand wind speeds of up to 90 mph and gusts up to 120 mph. Pike added that the tower will not affect the property value of nearby houses.

“Most people don’t want a nearby cell tower, but it’s necessary,” Pike said.

Pike talked to the public and the commission about the necessity of cell phone towers in a growing area such as Laurel County.

“One in three homes no longer have a landline,” Pike said. “The only lines of communication these people have are their cell phones.”

Pike said this tower, as well as the other two discussed in the public hearings, was necessary to meet the needs of cell phone users in Laurel County. According to Pike, the increasing use of cell phones means the capacity for existing towers will soon be exceeded.

Gilpin asked about a 120-day policy surrounding the dismantling of the tower should that become necessary. According to Pike, if the cell tower needed to come down, it will be disassembled within 120 days. He added he has yet to have a cell tower that needed to be dismantled.

Commission members Bruce Yandell and Ed Manning expressed concern over the stability of the structure, and worried about the damage that might occur if the structure were to fall. Yandell demanded to hear from a panel of experts that accompanied Pike to the public hearings, and each spoke in turn stating that there was nothing wrong with the tower.

Engineer Bill Grigsby explained that in the event of a disaster, the base of the tower could not simply topple; the top of the tower would bend first, and the tower would not fall straight on its side.

Following this presentation, members of the public came forward to express their opposition to the tower. Ned Wilkerson, who lives in the neighborhood in which the tower is being built, stated the neighborhood was opposed to the construction of the tower and stated it would lower property values.

Ned Wilkerson also claimed the map they were given was from 1997 and there had been far more development in the area since the map was made. He added there was another tower within half a mile of the new site.

Betty Day, an employee with Southern States, stated her house was “across the road” from the tower’s intended site.

“I have raised my family there and I am very upset about it,” Day said. “I don’t want to look out the window and see a big tower outside every day.”

Day added that the area was not a commercial area.

“We are families with children and grandchildren,” Day said.

Joann Wilkerson, another resident of the area, asked why the county had no zoning, and Gilpin replied that the public “generally opposed” zoning. Gilpin told her that people were more concerned with their rights to “do whatever with their property that they want.” Pike added he thought better zoning laws in Laurel County would help with a lot of issues such as the one concerning the cell phone tower.

“This is a residential area,” Joann Wilkerson said. “We filed a petition. What do we do?”

Gilpin explained the petition would have no power, and there was nothing they could do to prevent the tower from being built.

“We have another tower less than half a mile away. Why can’t we use it?” Joann Wilkerson asked.

“We have to trust these people,” Gilpin told her. “There is a heavy load of people. As a community grows, you have to have these towers.”

Joann Wilkerson replied that having a cell phone was a choice, but the tower coming to her neighborhood was not a choice. Ned Wilkerson stated he had five phones with his AT&T family plan and his phone had never dropped a call in the area.

“People don’t just talk on phones anymore,” Manning said. “They download things, and use the Internet. That takes a lot more data than just a call.”

Manning conceded the consideration for the neighborhood should be “a little bit higher” when it came to the placement of the tower. Ned Wilkerson claimed the company simply did not want to build a road to a different site, and that was the reason for insisting on a building site so close to a residential area.

Day asked if there was any liability if the tower harms any homes or people. Gilpin said he could not answer that question; it was a matter of insurance.

The proposal for the tower was approved.

Earlier in the meeting saw a public hearing that concerned the the construction of a cell phone tower on 300 Liperote Way, which is zoned as a residential area.

According to Gilbert, Pike already covered most of the issues involved in the construction of this tower. The only remaining issue was its height, and Pike requested a waiver on the height limit due to the fact that 150 feet is the minimum at which a cell phone tower can function effectively.

Pike added since the tower was only 150 feet in height, it did not need aviation lighting. Pike said any tower 200 feet or higher must be lit in order to be visible to planes flying in the area. A tower less than 200 feet in height only had to have aviation lighting if it was near a public-use helipad or airport, which this tower was not.

Pike said the proposal for the tower was “100 percent within the law.” The tower will be located within city limits, and the property on Liperote Way is zoned as residential. Pike noted the rear portion of the property on Liperote Way was used agriculturally. He called the property “totally unsuitable for residential purposes.”

“We have a zoning issue; the property is split between residential and commercial,” Manning said. “Is the landowner going to apply for change? Is there a plan for the whole area to be commercial?”

According to Pike, the owner of the property, Jim Hall, did not know it was zoned as residential when he bought it, and he stated Hall was “amenable” to rezoning.

“When we bought it in ‘06 to develop, I thought it was all commercial,” Hall said.

“I think it’s a worthy endeavor to rezone the property,” Gilpin said.

Manning asked Hall if he would prefer the commission to request the zone change, and Hall replied, “Whatever’s easiest.”

Commission Member Susan Hodges asked Pike if the height of the tower was “above average.” Pike replied the tower was shorter than most cell phone towers, and its location on elevated ground will help its ability to function.

The third and final public hearing concerned a proposal to build a cell phone tower at 6384 Barbourville Road in London. Unlike the tower proposal for Ridings Mitchell Creek Road, this particular tower will have no residential structures within 500 feet of it, and the site is vacant.

The tower is proposed to be 262 feet in height, and because of its height it must be a “self-supporting” or “lattice-work” tower rather than a monopole. Pike said that due to the “hilliness” of the area, the minimum height for the tower to function properly is 262 feet. Due to its height, aviation lighting is required. Pike said the light would flash white during the day and red at night, and he added this color combination was what was most preferred by the public.

The closest cell phone tower to the proposed tower is two miles away, and the property is owned by Dale and Brenda Taylor.

Moye read a list of amendments to the original proposal similar to the list of amendments with the previous proposal; the method of removal was identified as dismantling the above ground structure, the FCC required signage on the tower, and Pike requested a waiver for the maximum height requirement of 100 feet.

As with the previous two towers, Pike said his application met all requirements and there was no legal reason to reject the proposal.

“I like this location better,” Yandell said.

Pike’s requested height waiver was granted and his application was approved.

“I would recommend cell phone towers to be a little further away from people, like this one is,” Manning said.

Before the public hearings, Gene Greene was sworn in as a new member of the commission.

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