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Archive for Tuesday, May 6, 2008

County ordered to allow cell tower

May 6, 2008

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A federal judge recently ordered Douglas County to allow Verizon Wireless to install a cellular communications tower.

On Monday, the Douglas County Commission approved the tower, which will be built at 261 E. 1250 Road, near the intersection of U.S. Highways 56 and 59.

That approval came nearly a year after Commissioner Charles Jones stopped the tower from being built when he voted against Verizon's request for a conditional-use permit allowing the tower. Commissioners Bob Johnson and Jere McElhaney voted for the permit, noting that Verizon had met the county's permit requirements.

Neighbors had filed a protest petition opposing the tower. Because of the petition, a unanimous vote in favor was required for the tower to be approved. Jones said at the time he was not convinced Verizon needed the tower.

But U.S. Magistrate David Waxse ruled that Jones' argument against the tower ignored evidence Verizon presented showing that the firm wasn't just trying to improve coverage in the immediate area but also beyond it. Waxse wrote in his decision that Verizon was not required to present information about "dropped calls." It also didn't need to establish that it had a significant gap in coverage for a permit.

Following the commission meeting Monday, Jones said that his job is different from that of the judge. Jones said he thinks his job is to "do his homework" and balance the interests of all parties involved in the cell tower request.

"There is virtually nothing about the rights of the neighbors and virtually nothing about the role of the democratic process in this," Jones said of the judge's decision. "It is completely focused on Verizon's legal rights."

Jones said he hoped the county can find a "realistic balance" concerning the rights of cell tower companies and the rights of taxpayers. He noted that the city of Lawrence had decided to hire a third party to review technical information submitted by cell phone companies wanting to build a tower.

"We (the commission) said we're going to watch and see what happens," he said.

In other business, commissioners approved a site plan for construction of an auxiliary church building and parking lot expansion at Stull United Methodist Church, 251 N. 1600 Road.

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