AT&T requests 150-foot cell tower near FHS campus

After over an hour of discussion Monday night, the Planning Commission once again tabled a request to construct a 150-foot flagpole-type cell phone tower at the intersection of Hill Ave. and MLK Blvd.

The first tabling was at the request of the applicant. Monday’s delay came at the request of the commission who felt that not enough evidence had been submitted to prove the need for a brand new tower.

According to AT&T, recent upgrades to 3G technology, combined with a concentrated use of cell phones in and around the Fayetteville High School area, has created the need to relieve some of the pressures in its network which are causing dropped calls and poor signal strength for its customers.

Adding a new tower to this area will address these issues, says AT&T and Smith Communications, LLC, the firm hired to construct the new tower.

Applicant’s photo simulation

The proposal is for a slender, white monopole (flagpole-type) tower with no external antennae that Smith Communications says will minimize the visual impact to the area.

During Monday night’s meeting, both city staff and several commissioners made it clear that they didn’t believe AT&T and Smith Communications had presented enough of a case to rule out the possibility of co-locating on another nearby tower. There is an existing tower in the area near Baum Stadium and another near Walker Park, neither of which AT&T is utilizing.

“The ordinance states that we’re looking for as few towers as possible,” said Jeremy Pate, director of development services. “It’s our burden to recommend a new tower only when all other opportunities have been exhausted.” Pate and city staff say they still believe the possibility of co-location exists.

Commissioner Jim Zant delivered to Dave Reynolds of Smith Communications what he admitted may sound like “an under-the-belt punch.” “Not withstanding the fact that you probably earn your best pay by erecting new cell towers, what rationale do you have to justify erecting a 150-foot tower when there are two other co-locations that apparently are available,” asked Zant.

“For the record,” replied Reynolds, “we earn our best pay by co-locating AT&T on another site that’s already built. Because then we get a two-for-one, if you will. So no, I don’t make more money that way.”

In this case, said Reynolds, having a tower in the immediate vicinity of the problem area is the only way to resolve AT&T’s issues. “To locate on a tower seven-tenths of a mile away doesn’t cover it,” he said. “It does nothing for the capacity because of the distance it is from the concentration of phone users. It just doesn’t work that way.”

“I’m still not convinced that the things that staff has requested and required have been provided,” said commissioner Christine Myres who offered a motion to deny the permit.

Ultimately, the commission voted 6-1 to table the issue until its next meeting in order to allow AT&T a final opportunity to substantiate its need. Myres cast the only “no” vote.