Concord residents come out in force to oppose cell tower

Lodge membership rebelling against cell tower, Elk says

By Gloria Lloyd

As people rely more on their cell phones, telecommunications companies looking to increase coverage are increasingly running up against angry neighbors who do not want to see tall towers in their skyline.

Last week, Concord residents living near Bauer Road came out to the county Planning Commission in force to speak against a conditional-use permit, or CUP, for a 100-foot tower that AT&T wants to build at the Crestwood Elks Lodge 2503 at 10261 Bauer Road, saying the tower is unnecessary, ugly, will bring down their home prices and could cause health problems.

In a nonbinding vote taken at the end of the hearing, one person raised his hand in favor of the tower, and 63 people said they were opposed or with concern.

“If you were in our position, I suspect not one of you would want this — and probably every one of you would be in the audience to speak against it,” Peter Horton, who lives across from the Elks Lodge, told the planning panel. “You wouldn’t want it, and we don’t want it.”

The Planning Commission will not vote on the tower until July at the earliest, and then the issue would go to the County Council. Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger’s legislative assistant Linda Henry attended the hearing on Stenger’s behalf.

The Bauer Road arguments echo those made June 4 by Sunset Hills residents at a public hearing for a similar 100-foot tower proposed at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection at 9907 Sappington Road.

The Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend against a CUP for the tower, which is also commissioned by AT&T. A final decision on the Sappington Road tower is still up to the Board of Aldermen, where approval requires a supermajority to override the planning panel’s recommendation.

After Sunset Hills aldermen rejected a CUP for a 190-foot emergency communications tower proposed by the county at the South County Health Center last year, the county moved forward on the project anyway, prompting Sunset Hills to take the county to court. A judge ruled that the county’s right to build the tower, which is part of a new emergency communications network, superseded the city’s zoning regulations, and the tower is up.

The onset of proposals for cell towers was predicted by Russell Been of St. Charles Tower, who warned the commission when he applied for a tower in February that they would soon be seeing many more proposals for similar towers.

“I think we’re the tip of the wave that’s coming in,” he told the panel. “There’s going to be quite a few proposals in front of you. I can’t imagine a time when (companies) come in and say, ‘That’s it, we’ve had enough towers.’”

The planning panel unanimously recommended approval of Been’s request for a 150-foot cell tower at Assumption Church, on the northeast side of Mattis Road at Ambs Road.

Although the planning panel ultimately approved Been’s request, member William Ballard said he is concerned about the aesthetics of a county covered in cell towers.

“I’m just concerned about these poles — everywhere you look, you see poles,” he said.

At the June 9 Bauer Road hearing, which drew roughly 65 people in protest of the tower, attorney Patrick Chassaing presented a petition with more than 200 neighbors’ signatures against the tower to the panel, stating that he represents neighbors Andy and Jen Rieser, who are planning to build their dream home on property they just bought next to the Elks but are now rethinking that plan.

Chassaing disputed that Network Mobility has the full support of the general Elks membership, since he contends members were not consulted on the tower lease.

“My understanding is that the general membership was never advised, no poll was ever taken,” he said. “A great deal of them live in this immediate area and would have been opposed, so to suggest that they have the full support of the Elks is a little bit disingenuous.”

In his comments to the panel, Andy Rieser said he is an Elk, and the general Elks membership is rebelling against the tower.

“If there was a vote today, I can tell you personally — there’s an uprising in the neighborhood … it would be unanimous between the neighborhood and the Elks,” he said. “The only people that benefit from this is AT&T, not our neighborhood, not our Elks Lodge, not our veterans.”

Both the Sunset Hills and Concord proposals call for monopole towers with up to three platforms at the top that could handle three different cell-phone carriers to minimize requirements for future towers.

The Crestwood Elks Lodge is currently zoned NU, or Non-Urban, and is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and subdivisions.

The Elks were represented at the hearing by attorney Eric Martin of Bryan Cave and Matt Schlichter of North Carolina-based Network Mobility, which found the site for AT&T and its tower contractor, TowerCo.

To minimize disruption to the scenery, Network Mobility proposes painting the tower blue to match the sky.

After a parade of neighbors made their way to the podium to blast the aesthetics of the tower, the Network Mobility representatives offered the panel a compromise — making the tower look like a pine tree.

Although Martin said cell-phone coverage in the area is poor and needs to be upgraded, Bauer Road neighbors disputed that contention, saying they are AT&T customers and have excellent coverage, even running tests before the hearing to see if they had any gaps in coverage and finding none.

Neighbor Shannon Marino pointed out that within a four-mile radius of the Elks Lodge, cell-phone companies have 55 towers and 224 antennas, with 70 percent belonging to AT&T.

After neighbors said they feared for the health of their families, Martin and Schlichter pointed to federal agencies which have ruled that the waves from cell towers pose no health concern and send out less powerful waves than nearby radio and television towers.

At least one area tower will go through, however, since it is low enough that the county does not need to hold a public hearing on it.

In an executive meeting conducted earlier the same night, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve Network Mobility’s request for a 95-foot tower in Oakville on the northwest corner of Telegraph Road and Franru Lane, on property zoned C-8 and owned by Thomas Figliola, who intends to use the property for offices and retail.

Since the requested tower in Oakville is lower than 100 feet, it did not require a public hearing, and the request by Schlichter on behalf of Figliola was not mailed to neighbors ahead of time, as required for a larger tower under county zoning ordinances.