Council Hears Strong Objection to Cell Tower
Thursday, January 31, 2019
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
More than 25 residents attended the Jan. 28 Sewanee Community Council meeting to voice opposition to the cellular tower slated for construction behind the football stadium. The tower would greatly improve community cell phone service from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. Currently, only AT&T service is widely available.
Dale Richardson, who, with his wife Leslie Richardson hold the lease on the property closest to the tower site, summarized many of the group’s grievances. Richardson pointed to possible health hazards from electromagnetic waves, noting many communities had band cellular towers. He also predicted a decrease in property values and argued the tower would disrupt the historical character of the location. “The football field is the oldest continually used football field in the South.”
Another complaint voiced by many was lack of communication about the project.
“The biggest disappointment was that there was no communication from the University or the Community Council,” said Peggy Peterson. Peterson and her husband hold the lease on the other property adjoining the site.
Peterson learned about the project from the Messenger report on the April 23 council meeting at which the proposed cellular tower and favored location were briefly mentioned. There was no discussion. Formation of the Parks Committee dominated the council’s concerns that evening.
As potentially impacted adjoining leaseholders, the Petersons and Richardsons received notice in the fall from the Franklin County Board of Zoning Appeals about a proposed zoning change in their neighborhood necessary for a tower to be erected there. The Richardsons attended the zoning board meeting. The board rejected the University’s rezoning appeal.
In December, the Franklin County Commission voted on a zoning rules amendment that paved the way for the project to go forward. The amendment allowed exceptions to the rule prohibiting towers when occupied structures were within the fall radius if “the proposed tower is needed for emergency communications.”
Speaking for herself and Johnny Hughes, the other District 5 commissioner, Helen Stapleton said, “We were happy to approve the rule change. We had no idea there was any opposition. We thought we were doing the right thing. I apologize.”
The Richardsons’ home will be 140 feet away from the 189 foot tower.
The Petersons and Richardsons were unaware of the proposed zoning rules change and did not attend the county commission meeting. They read about an upcoming January zoning meeting in the Messenger, received notice of the meeting from the zoning board, and attended the Jan. 3 meeting to protest proposed rezoning in their neighborhood. The rezoning passed.
Numerous residents asked why no other sites were acceptable.
Eric Hartman, head of University Risk Management, said other sites considered included the area of the Tennessee Williams Center for the Performing Arts, the baseball field, the baseball practice field, and the parking area at McCrady Hall. Hartman confirmed the contract with the wireless internet company Vogue Towers had been signed and the contract stipulated the location.
Verizon, the primary provider who will offer service at the new tower, selected the football field location as “the site that does the most good and the site we’re most interested in,” Hartman insisted.
Vogue Towers CEO Pat Tant explained Verizon’s choice was based on minimizing “the difficulty in penetrating stone buildings” and identifying a central location to maximize “propagation.”
“We need to hear from Verizon. They need to tell us why this is the perfect site,” argued Leslie Richardson.
Speaking in favor of the tower, University student Adam Foster said, “Just last night I got an email about a suspicious person on campus near Spencer Hall.” Foster expressed special concern for female students walking back to their dorm in areas where there was no cell service. “There is no service right here,” Foster stressed.
In addition to cell phone service providers, Franklin County Emergency Management will also use the tower to facilitate much needed improvement to communication in the Alto Road area, Hartman said.
Addressing the health hazard issue, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell noted that the cellular antennae “we have now in Shapard Tower emits these waves. Students living in the area and everyone who walks past is exposed. There are levels of risk one is willing to incur in every decision one makes in life.”
Citing the largely agreed upon need and benefit to the community, council representative Charles Whitmer observed, “If it’s not in your backyard it’s in someone else’s.”
Acknowledging the poor communication about the project, McCardell said, “There are things we might have done better. I’m grateful for the sincerity and passion of the residents who attended tonight’s meeting. These are our friends, neighbors and valued members of the community, and we should thank them.”
Community Council Honors Knoll
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Although discussion about the cellular tower dominated discussion at the Jan. 28 Sewanee Community Council meeting, the council also took up several other issues. Following the suggestion of resident Mary Priestley, the council voted to make the roadside cleanup project an annual event and to name the event after Arthur Knoll.
Knoll, a former county commissioner and University professor, actively promoted and supported the cleanup project for many years, Priestley said. Council representative Phil White will chair the cleanup initiative. Priestley coordinated the project last year and will do so again this year. The proposed date is April 20.
Vice-Chancellor John McCardell welcomed newly elected council representatives Anna Palmer, District 1, and Eric Keen, District 3. Palmer serves as the admission counselor at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School. Keen is a visiting instructor of biology at the University.
Provost Nancy Berner announced a vacancy on the agenda committee. The committee reviews potential agenda items submitted for the council’s consideration to determine if the topic is one the council should address or if the subject should be referred to another entity, Franklin County or the University Lease Committee, for example. Berner asked council representatives interested in assisting with the agenda review process to contact her. Agenda items referred to other entities are announced at council meetings to keep the council informed of community concerns.
Council representative Cindy Potter announced the Community Action Committee will pay for the fees and equipment for any child who wishes to participate in youth sports and lacks the resources. For information or to recommend a child for assistance, contact Potter <email@example.com> or the CAC (931) 598-5927.
The council meets next March 25.