Residents fight against cell tower on Monticello Street

COVINGTON — Residents are fighting against having a 199-foot cell tower being built on Monticello Street.

The Covington City Council was presented with a special-use permit request from TowerCom V LLC, who is seeking to build a cell tower at 1184 Monticello St. where Sugar Hill Storage LLC is located.

While the council was ready to deny the request at Monday’s meeting, not enough evidence was presented in order to build a case defending denial of TowerCom’s request. Instead, the issue was tabled in order for the city to hire a consultant to conduct a study on cell phone coverage in the area.

TowerCom Vice President Chip Bulloch and the company’s attorney, Melissa J. Perignat, a partner of Holt, Ney, Zatcoff & Wasserman LLP, gave a presentation of the cell tower’s importance.

“It’ll provide wireless service in what is a known dead zone in the city,” Perignat said. “It’s a monofold design, which will collapse on its own and won’t fall on other properties. It’s designed to blend in and there is a tree buffer on the property.”

While there is no fall danger, there will be some visibility from Jackson Highway and Monticello Street, Perignat said. The nearest residential northern property line, located at 6163 Monticello St., is 27 feet from the site. City staff members recommended a setback variance of 27 feet along with approval of the cell tower.

Despite staff and the planning commission’s recommendation of approval, many residents spoke out against the cell tower being built, raising health and property value concerns.

“I have talked to my doctor about it affecting my defibrillator and he said it wouldn’t, but the pictures they’ve provided us with are not realistic. Trees aren’t 200 feet tall,” James Milligan said, referring company images shown during the presentation that seemed to show the tower would not stand above the treeline. “Plus cell towers attract lightning like trailer parks attract tornadoes.”

Milligan’s son also spoke out against the tower, saying it’s not needed because he is a Verizon customer who receives good signal in the area.

Perignat said there’s a coverage gap that reaches about a mile from the center where the tower would be located. There are three towers that are located within about 2 miles from the Monticello Street location, making it the most central area to place a new tower, Perignat said. One of the towers is owned by the city of Covington and located on Ga. Highway 36. It reaches more than 400 feet in order to be used by public safety agencies along with cell carriers.

City Council members questioned why the new tower needed to be nearly 200 feet tall, and Perignat responded that the tower will be able to hold up to five carriers, which are about 10 to 15 feet apart. Currently, only AT&T and Tmobile have signed on to the tower if it is constructed.

Polly Milligan presented the council with a petition containing more than 50 signatures of people who are against the tower and who fear that it would decrease their property values.

“I’ve lived on same street for 69 years and I’m concerned about the property values. Realtors disagreed with the studies the company presented and said it would decline our property’s value,” Milligan said. “I’m not opposed to cell towers, but just opposed that it has to be so close to home.”

Councilman Michael Whatley made the motion to deny TowerCom’s special-use permit request; the motion was seconded by Councilwoman Janet Goodman.

Attorney Frank Turner advised the council that they table the decision instead, because not enough evidence was presented to deny the request and a court would likely reverse the decision. He also said the city could face a potential lawsuit. Health concerns could not be provided as evidence against the denial, Turner said.

Whatley redacted his motion and proposed the motion to hire a consultant to conduct a study on cell coverage and bring the discussion before the council again next month.

The motion to table the discussion passed with a 4-2 vote, with council members Chris Smith and Keith Dalton against.

Smith said he wanted to deny it even if there was a potential for reversal or for a lawsuit.

“I think it’s a bad deal,” Smith said Tuesday. “I understand the legal side, but I’m just not happy with the whole thing. If we can find reasonable cause through a reappraisal of the property or just enough evidence then we should fight against it. There’s got to be a better place other than in a residential area.”