Sunday, October 06, 2013

Commissioners To Address Oconee County Cell Tower Request by Verizon At Tuesday Meeting

Tower Number 28

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to decide Tuesday evening if Verizon Wireless can place a cell tower on farmland near the Eastville community over the objections of at least some residents in the area.

Three people spoke against the issuance of a special use permit for the cell tower at the Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 16. They were joined by about a dozen fellow citizens in the audience and said they expected others would have spoken out had they known about the plans for the cell tower.

Existing 190-Foot Cell Tower

They will have their chance in the public hearing on Tuesday.

The Planning Commission voted 6-4 to recommend denial of the request to the BOC, with several members saying Verizon should use instead an existing tower on Rocky Branch Road 1.25 miles due west of the proposed tower

A representative of Verizon said the existing tower would not provide the coverage needed and told the Planning Commission that Verizon had met the county’s requirements for cell towers.

The BOC meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the courthouse in Watkinsville. The hearing on the special use permit is scheduled for halfway through a relatively light agenda.

Join 27 Other Towers

If the Commissioners approve the tower for Athens Cellular Inc., doing business as Verizon Wireless, that tower will join 27 already in or surrounding the county, according to documents added to the file for the rezone request by the county planning staff following the Planning Commissioner meeting.

The tower will be on 25 acres owned by Robert W. Strickland, 1571 Parker Creek Road.

Parker Creek Road runs between Hodges Mill Road and Hog Mountain Road just east of Malcom Bridge Road.

The tract is wooded, but the 190-foot monopole would rise high above the treeline.

Brookhaven subdivision is just east of the proposed tower, and residents who spoke at the Planning Commission meeting said the tower would detract from the value of their homes.

Special Use Permit Needed

The county’s Unified Development Code, which defines land use in the county, allows construction of “Freestanding Towers and Antennae” in three types of districts, A1 (Agricultural), B2 (Highway Business) and I (Industrial), but in each case only as a special use.

The Strickland property is zoned A1.

The planning staff recommended approval of the special use request, saying that the location of the proposed tower on the Strickland property “enables the tower to meet all of the setbacks required” in the UDC.

Athens Cellular is proposing to lease 14,400 square feet of land from Strickland for the tower. The county will require a 20-foot landscape perimeter buffer.

American Tower Option

Jennifer Blackburn, attorney for Verizon, told the Planning Commission that the American Tower Corporation tower at 1330 Rocky Branch Road would not provide Verizon the coverage it is seeking from the proposed tower.

She presented the Planning Commission three different maps, one showing existing coverage, one showing coverage with the proposed tower, and the third showing coverage should Verizon co-locate its equipment on the existing American Tower Rocky Branch Road location.

The Rocky Branch Tower could improve coverage over the existing situation, the maps show, but coverage would be better with the proposed new tower on the Strickland property.

According to county tax records, the Rocky Branch Road tower is located on property owed by Jeff Meeler. The county estimates Meeler is earning $600 per month from the lease for the 200-foot-tall monopole tower, which was constructed in 2003.

The tower is in the triangle of land formed by the intersection of Rocky Branch Road and Old Rocky Branch Road, with Hog Mountain Road on the south.

Inventory Of Towers

The planning staff inventory of towers shows that eight existing towers are located outside the county but provide service to the county.

Proposed Tower in Green

Thirteen of the 27 towers are monopole towers similar to the one proposed for the Strickland property. Others are described at lattice, guyed and stealth flagpole, that is, a cell tower disguised as a flagpole.

The tower in the picture at the top of this post is located at 2370 Daniells Bridge Road across from Founders Grove on property owned by Michael Thornton. It was constructed in 2003 and is 190-feet-tall–the same as the proposed tower on the Strickland property.

County tax records assess the lease value for the cell tower on the Thornton property at $100,000 per year. The property also contains a billboard, with an assessed lease value of $120,000 per year.

Other Agenda Items

The BOC will hold public hearings on Tuesday on two other zoning requests.

Lampkin Branch Business Park on U.S. 441 Bypass just outside Watkinsville is seeking a special use permit to allow a sign manufacturing operation inside the business park.

ABC/Davis signs, currently located on 2175 W. Broad Street in Athens/Clarke County, wants to move its manufacturing facility to the Oconee County site.

RWJ. Inc. is asking the county to allow it to rezone just less than two acres in Meridian subdivision off Mars Hill Road in the west of the county from Office-Institutional-Professional to R1 residential to build additional homes in the subdivision.

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