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Cell tower plans draw debate

By Kimberly Jordan kjordan@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:39 PM

Wilson County's Board of Zoning Appeals heard concerns from citizens regarding proposed cellphone tower locations at its Friday meeting.

Six proposed cell tower sites were on the table, one of which was officially withdrawn before the meeting and was not voted on.

Frank Romeo with engineering firm P. Marshall and Associates came to the meeting to explain where the towers would be located if approved. His proposal met with plenty of opposition from residents in the areas that would border the property on which the towers would be placed.

"I understand the need for more coverage, but someday they are going to build a better mouse trap, and we might not need these towers anymore," said County Attorney Mike Jennings. "I am concerned with the number of cell towers. When they build a better mouse trap, are you going to take all those down?"

One site would be located on Thompson Road. At the meeting, County Planner Tom Brashear said the original location that was pinpointed for the tower was just on the edge of the property chosen, but Romeo had provided the Planning Office with an alternate site on the same property.

"Mr. Romeo has provided me with an alternate site behind the tree line to give additional buffering and screening to those properties that are adjacent," said Brashear. "It would minimize the impact to everybody."

Commissioner Clint Thomas, who represents the area where this tower is being debated, said he had been contacted by many of his constituents, including those who owned property near the proposed tower.

"The fact remains there is going to be a cell tower on the property line of three or four homeowners," he said. "This case and others are undoubtedly due to growth, but there are health concerns and concerns about the fall radius."

He continued by asking Romeo if it would be possible for representatives from AT&T, who would be using the towers for their cell service, to hold a public meeting for those with questions to get some answers.

"We are the ones living here, why couldn't you come to us first?" asked Thomas.

He asked the board to defer a vote on the tower "so [homeowners] can have some questions answered."

Eddie Martin, a resident whose land is adjacent to the property of the possible tower, said he is a 25-year veteran of the telecommunications industry.

"I don't work for AT&T, but I deal with cell towers every day. People have approached me asking questions about radiation and such. Any time a tower goes up, people are scared. In some people's eyes, [the tower] is an eyesore. I encourage AT&T to have meetings with residents to talk about what they're doing and why they're doing it."

Romeo said that one reason for putting up the new towers is due to capacity issues.

"We have 50 or 60 people trying to use the service at once," he said. "The goal is to increase service and speed to current customers."

Another proposed site on Stewarts Ferry Pike brought concerned opinions from meeting attendees.

Brashear said concerns had been expressed due to the possible new tower being in close proximity to a public school.

"There has been some concern expressed with locating a tower within a mile of a public school," he said. "This site is within a mile of Gladeville Elementary. It is a desire on behalf of the public not to have a site that close. It is not part of any written policy we have."

Romeo said that if approved, the site could be amended to better fit the public's request.

Thomas said "I gladly accept your willingness to be a good neighbor and communicate. We would love to meet with you."

One resident spoke in favor of the possible tower on Stewarts Ferry, saying that her property was one that was located next to the proposed site. Other properties surrounding the tract of land belong to some of her relatives.

"Everyone around that tower is okay with it," she said. "It's not any more dangerous than some of the food we eat at the grocery store."

All of the votes on proposed cell tower sites were deferred until the board's next meeting on Jan. 17 at 8:30 a.m.

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