Can Cell Towers Be Stopped?
By Mike Steely
Can anything be done to stop a cell tower from being located in your neighborhood?
Requests are constantly being made to the city and county for more and more cell phone towers as the number of smart phone users grow and cell phone providers reach out to serve and secure new customers.
Local control of the towers has diminished over the years and the Federal Communications Commission preempts all city or county regulations.
A training session was held last week for the Metropolitan Planning Commission about what can be done, if anything, to stop or limit the number of towers, some of which can stretch 150 feet or higher. The Thursday afternoon session, which ran for almost three hours, was also a chance for the public to hear and better understand the regulations on towers. The Small Assembly Room at the City-County Building was almost full as citizens listened to a presentation on towers by Larry Perry, a consultant to many municipalities.
MPC Chair Rebecca Longmire introduced Perry and opened the work session by stating that the meeting was not about any particular cell tower request but was a learning class for the MPC members. She asked the public to be civil.
Perry, who is a telecommunication attorney, advisor to the FCC, and has engineered and placed more than 3,000 cell towers worldwide, said there are 13 cell carriers in the Knoxville area and spoke of the different configurations of cell phone transceivers. He explained that cell phone transceivers are not limited to towers but also are on the sides and tops of buildings, atop electric poles and some TVA electric towers, at football fields, atop signs, water tanks and other structures.
Most of the new towers being built are monopoles, meaning a single shaft rather than a lattice tower, and have to be set back at least 110% of the height of the tower to the nearest house.
Perry said the FCC prohibits local jurisdictions from banning towers, discriminating against providers, and cannot deny a tower on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions.
Cities and counties must act within 60 days after receiving a completed application for a tower and, if denied, must respond in writing within 30 days. The applicant, a cell tower builder or provider, then has 30 days to appeal.
Tom Brechko, MPC staffer, said the preferred location of new towers is in commercial and industrial areas. He said that in the last ten years there have been 83 applications filed, 68 approved, 6 denied and 7 withdrawn by the applicant. Two applications are currently postponed.
“Forty percent of people don’t have a landline,” Brechko said as cell phones are replacing hard-wired home phones. He added, “We need to look at our plans.”
Brechko said that applications for towers inside neighborhoods are discouraged adding, “We try to encourage other locations.”
Local regulations about towers has also discouraged neighborhood locations by requiring screening of the ground equipment, access requirements and a 15-foot graveled drive to the towers.
“A lot of new challenges are coming along in the next few months,” he said.
Fourteen days prior to a hearing on a cell tower request the MPC posts signs in the area of the tower location and notifies homes within 500 feet of the site by sending out postcards. Brechko said that the MPC is now asking the tower company or provider to submit a photo simulation of what the tower would look like from the neighborhood.
At the end of the meeting some of those present spoke, including Kelly Ellenburg, a resident of the Martha Berry-Ridgecrest neighborhood. A 150-foot cell tower has been proposed for her neighborhood and the homeowners there continue to oppose its location. The request was postponed but is now scheduled for an August hearing.
She said the proposed tower doesn’t meet community standards but is getting MPC’s recommendation for approval.
Chair Longmire thanked Ellenburg for her comments but added that the work session was not considering individual tower applications or locations.