Archive for Thursday, May 20, 2004

County to permit cellular tower

May 20, 2004


Plans for a new communications tower in southwest Douglas County are poised for approval early next week, Douglas County commissioners agreed Wednesday.

Cingular Wireless stands to get clearance Monday for installation of a new 250-foot-tall tower on an 80-acre farm field at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 56 and East 700 Road, about three miles south of Lone Star Lake.

Commissioners intend to approve Cingular's application for a conditional-use permit during the commission's 9 a.m. Monday meeting at the county courthouse, 1100 Mass.

The only way the permit would be rejected, commissioners said, is if a "protest petition" filed in opposition to the tower were deemed valid by the County Clerk's Office. Such a petition, signed by a sufficient number of neighboring property owners, could force commissioners to muster a unanimous vote to approve the permit.

Sandra Day, a city-county planner, said the petition already had been deemed invalid, and that an attempt to add signatures to the petition Wednesday night came too late to meet the necessary legal requirements.

Even so, commissioners said, the mere process of the review is essential.

"We want something that would stand up in court if we get sued," said Charles Jones, commission chairman.

The company needs the new tower to meet customer demands, said Chase Simmons, an attorney for Cingular.

The company needs to fill in gaps in its service area along U.S. 56, between Baldwin and Overbrook, Simmons said. Cingular also aims to boost its competitive standing against other wireless carriers serving the area.

The new tower would be designed to make room for at least two other wireless carriers, which could lease space from Cingular. Cingular already is working to install equipment on a competitor's existing tower just outside Overbrook.

"It is an area where we really need a cell tower," said Cingular subscriber Bruce Snodgrass, who told commissioners that he had switched from Verizon and Alltel after being frustrated with coverage gaps near his farm property. "We need it."

Darrell Norris sounded the lone voice of opposition to the project Wednesday night. The new tower would be installed a little more than a mile directly south of his private airstrip, which he uses 50 or 60 times a year -- including takeoffs and landings in foul weather.

"The tower tip is in the clouds and you can't see it to avoid it. That's my problem," said Norris, who noted that his concerns stretched beyond those of other neighbors. "For them it's about aesthetics and property values. Mine is whether or not I get entangled with its guy wires."

Norris' argument didn't fly with commissioners, who noted that the Federal Aviation Administration already had cleared Cingular's application with regard to air safety. And besides, they said, Norris built his private airstrip without securing the necessary permit from the county.

Norris told commissioners that he was unaware of the requirement, but Commissioner Bob Johnson didn't buy it. Norris is president of Quality Electric, a company that routinely secures permits from governments to do its work.

"I can't accept the fact that ignorance of the law is an excuse," Johnson said.

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