Covington Council reverses decision, allows cell tower to be built

COVINGTON — With Mayor Ronnie Johnston switching his vote, the Covington City Council voted 4-3 Monday to grant a special use permit allowing construction of a controversial cell phone tower on Monticello Street.

Two weeks ago the council split 3-3 on the issue, and Johnston’s vote against the tower denied the SUP request by the company, TowerCom V LLC. Johnston said Monday that after further consideration he decided to change his vote to avoid an expensive lawsuit threatened by the company.

“Part of our job is to protect the public’s money,” the mayor said. “I do not see this as a battle we can win.”

Council members voted the same Monday as they had in the previous meeting – Janet Goodman, Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin voting to allow construction of the tower and Mike Whatley, Chris Smith and Keith Dalton voting against it.

Johnston explained that after the July 22 vote, he consulted Whatley, Smith and Dalton about the likely costs and prospects of winning the lawsuit that TowerCom threatened during negotiations over the summer.

“It’s a 99 percent chance we would lose that lawsuit,” Johnston said after Monday’s meeting.

The council’s reversal Monday permits construction at 1184 Monticello St. of a 169-foot tower, which is smaller than the 199-foot structure that the company proposed last spring.

TowerCom representatives claim the tower is necessary to address a cell phone signal coverage gap for AT&T and T-Mobile customers.

Residents living in the Monticello Street vicinity presented a petition in July and lambasted the proposed tower as an eyesore that would devalue their properties. Apparently none of those residents was present at Monday’s meeting, and it was unclear if they knew the issue would be revisited.

In other action Monday, the council passed ordinance amendments to allow customers at establishments serving alcohol to leave the premises with alcohol and to use drive-through windows to purchase alcohol.

The council also voted to amend the fire and safety code to allow flexibility in code enforcement for older buildings in order to promote a competitive business environment.