(pictured above: City Council members Derwin Montgomery (left) and James Taylor address constituents at last week’s meeting.)
Monday evening, the City Council voted to amend the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), allowing cell phone towers to be erected in residential communities. (They had previously only been allowed in business zones). The Council will still need to approve sites and plans for individual towers before they go up.
At the Enterprise Center last Thursday evening, days before the unanimous vote, residents – mainly those who live in the East and Southeast wards – learned more about the change.
“We wanted to have this particular opportunity for people to come out and to hear firsthand your thoughts on this UDO change,” said East Ward Council member Derwin Montgomery, who hosted Thursday’s information and feedback session with colleague James Taylor, who represents the Southeast Ward.
“We don’t vote on anything without meeting with our constituents first,” Taylor said. “Something of this magnitude requires people in chairs, it requires our constituents to give us the go ahead.”
Liz Hill of American Tower Company and attorney Tom Johnson addressed the dozen or so residents in attendance. Hill, whose company builds cell phone towers that are used by large telecommunications companies like AT&T, said the explosion in the use of wireless networks to talk, text and surf the internet on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices created the need for new towers that are closer to the people using such devices necessary.
“Folks are always asking us, ‘Well, you’re putting that in my neighborhood, is it serving my neighborhood?’ the answer is ‘yes,’” she said. “Wherever we deploy the site, (it) is serving the neighborhood immediately around it. We’re not serving a neighborhood across town; we’re serving that neighborhood with that tower.”
Johnson, whose firm, Nexsen Pruet, represents the American Tower Company and AT&T, assured residents that new towers would not infringe on property owner’s land or rights. Under the plan passed by the Council, towers will not be approved that would significantly adversely affect property values and eminent domain would not be used to secure land for new towers. The “setback” area for new towers makes placing towers in the backyards of homes out of the question, since space equal to their height plus 20-feet is required in case they fall.
Companies wanting to build towers are also required to notify, via letters, all residents and neighborhood organizations within 500 feet of the proposed site. Public meetings will also be held prior to the Council voting on individual tower sites.
“All requests for towers in residential areas will require community meetings like this one; we will have to go into the community and speak to the community about the tower,” Johnson said. “We like to do that because we like to allay concerns that a community may have about a given site.”
In many cases, the new towers will be unrecognizable, Johnson said.
Some may be designed to look like pine trees or flagpoles in order to blend in to the area. Large, traditional towers would only be erected if smaller, camouflaged ones are unfeasible, he said.
said towers do not pose a health danger, citing the Federal Communications Commission’s stance that radio frequency exposure from towers is safe. Taylor said the Public Safety Committee, which he chairs, also did its own research and is satisfied that radio frequency poses no risks.
Willie Malone said his concerns were addressed during the meeting. He wanted to learn more about what impact towers would have on neighborhoods. He got the answers he wanted but still plans to be alert as the change actually takes form.
“I’m going to be watching closely,” he said.
Carly Williams attended for a different reason. A resident of the Easton community, she says cell phone reception is poor in her community. Easton, a largely African American community sandwiched between the two wards, had already been rezoned to allow a tower to be erected, but Williams said she still has difficulty getting cell phone reception in her home. She believes better wireless service will benefit her community and is pleased that the Council is addressing the issue and ensuring residents’ safety.
“If they’re going to look into installing it into residential neighborhoods, I’m glad to know we have the oversight that we do,” she said.