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Appeals board to hear cellular tower variance

December 14, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Starkville Board of Adjustments and Appeals will consider a request from Cellular South Real Estate, Inc. for a variance for placement of a communications tower west of Pinelake Baptist Church at its meeting 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The proposed location is 1,790 feet from a residentially zoned district, so the company needs a variance from city code requiring communication towers to be no closer than 2,640 feet from the nearest residential zone.
Assistant City Planner Pamela Daniel said both the planning and zoning commission and the board of adjustments and appeals serve as advisory boards to the Starkville Board of Aldermen, and the decision to approve or disapprove the variance ultimately rests with the aldermen. As such, she said, the zoning commission’s approval or disapproval of the variance has no bearing on whether or not the appeals board considers the issue.
Daniel said the city ordinance governing cell phone towers limits tower height to 1 foot for every 2 feet the tower is set back from residential property, with a maximum tower height of 150 feet. In a staff report packaged with the agenda, she says the tower will measure 120 feet tall to reduce its profile.
Also in the report, Daniel said Cellular South, renamed C Spire Wireless in September, has limited coverage and capacity issues in west Starkville.
“These coverage problems worsen at peak traffic times and inside cars and buildings,” Daniel said. “In addition, their growth of customer base is expanding, and they need to include this area to cover vehicular traffic along Highway 25 and to cover the businesses and residences in the area.”
The appeals board has six criteria for approving a cellular tower location variance, Daniel said.
“Ideally, you would like for them to meet all the criteria,” Daniel said, “but it’s up to the discretion of the board members whether you (need to) meet all of them or some of them.”
Daniel makes cases for each of the criteria in her report. For instance, one of the criteria is for the ordinance to deprive the applicant of rights other properties in the same zoning district enjoy, placing undue hardship on the applicant.
“The applicant would be granted a privilege not usually conferred on others in the area, but the communication tower owner will allow and encourage co-location on their tower,” Daniel said. “The tower would be designed to accommodate several carriers. The 84.43-foot setback proposed by the applicant will be ideally suited for the site and convenient for C Spire Wireless customers.”
Included with the agenda and Daniel’s report is a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration’s regional obstruction evaluation group. It says the tower would present no hazard to air navigation, without specifically mentioning the nearby George M. Bryan Airport.
In its Tuesday meeting, the Starkville Planning and Zonng Commission voted to table discussion on the variance.
John Wade, an attorney representing C Spire, made a case for the tower’s placement during the meeting. He said because the tower is being placed in a C-2 district, and the zoning ordinance governing communication towers could allow C Spire to proceed without the need for deliberation and voting by the board.
“It specifically lists as a permitted use the placement of a tower or antenna in C-2 zoning provided the tower shall not exceed one foot for each two feet the tower is set back from the residential property, up to a maximum tower height of 150 feet,” Wade said. “As long as we meet that condition, it would appear to me it is a permitted use rather than a special use.”
Then, during the public hearing, attorney James Peden came forward representing RMR Investment Company, LLC based in Memphis, Tenn. Peden said RMR owns approximately 300 acres adjacent to the subject property on the bypass’ west side as well as 50 acres on the bypass’ east side, and company officials are concerned a communications tower will adversely affect its property value.
RMR also conveyed two parcels totaling 22.74 acres to Cross Point Church in 2006, Peden said, donating one of them as a charitable contribution. Covenants are in place, he said, which prohibit installation of the tower shown in C Spire’s proposed design.
Commission chair Jerry Emison said the board needed to consider Wade’s argument, leading commissioner Jeremy Murdock to make a motion to evaluate the request as a special use. The vote on that motion failed 3-2, with Murdock and commissioner Jason Walker voting in favor. Commissioner Dora Herring was absent from the meeting.
Emison said the board could either table the matter or decide to agree with Wade’s assessment. Commissioner Ira Loveless made a motion to table the issue, which passed 4-1 with only Murdock voting against it.

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