Hillsville Town Council approved a new cell tower construction application by U.S. Cellular at its November 13 regular meeting.
This followed an October 13 Planning Commission meeting with a unanimous vote to recommend Council approve the application. Earlier, citizens living near the site (which is behind the old BMI building) had registered their disapproval in no uncertain terms.
“This so happens to be in my district. the Sulphur Springs District. I was elected to represent the people in my district and 95 percent of them are against it, so I’m going to have to go with the wishes of the people in my district and vote against it,” said Councilman William Tate, who cast the only no vote on the recommendation.
Councilman Greg Yonce said the measure was one of the “There are times we have to make decisions which are not popular but we know are in the best interest of the Town. This is one of those situations. This is a request from a longstanding business that has been in town.” Yonce said he felt U.S. Cellular went the extra mile and that the tower would be some 35 feet higher than the lights at Tommy Thompson Field.
“I can understand you not wanting to see something from you neighborhood but there’s not going to be a light on this so it won’t be seen at night at all,” said Yonce. “I do understand where the citizens are coming from but the Planning Commission looked at this thoroughly. It was a decision we needed to make.”
U.S. Cellular Attorney Dick Gibson told Council poor cell phone coverage, both in the building and out of the building, are exacerbated by people’s desire to use their cell phones for data.
”Data takes up more wavelength and that is where a lot of the problem comes from,” said Gibson. “Another point I would make is the cellphone companies are entering into agreements with other carriers so they are able to roam off of U.S. Cellular’s tower. A new tower here would not only benefit U.S. Cellular customers but under these sharing agreements would benefit Verizon and AT&T customers. As your ordinance requires the tower is built to a height sufficient to benefit these other carriers so they can have their own antennas as well. The problem here is the lack of good coverage and we have verified this both with customer complaints and engineering studies. The solution is proposed to be a 120’ Monopole tower with a 4’ lightening rod (at 258 Cherry Street) on the BMI property.
Gibson countered questions about using other towers by saying U.S. Cellular is on every other tower in the area. He said the application was “sort of a a last-ditch effort in order to provide good coverage for the Town. It will improve coverage throughout the Town, both in building and out of the building.”
He showed photos displayed to the Planning Commission of the site, some with a simulated tower image digitally inserted into photos (Balloon test photos). He said the Town specified on sites to take photos from.
“I think that considering a lot of other man made structures around there, telephone poles, buildings obviously these things tend to blend into the landscape once they are up. We’ve put them up before after a hearing and people have said when are you going to put the tower up and its already up. I think the visibility is pretty much as limited as it can be. You have to be a certain distance above the ground to provide the service intended,” said Gibson.
Gibson said the State Department of Historic Resources issued a statement there is no visual, adverse affects on the Hillsville Historic District, the Carroll County Courthouse, the Hillsville Diner and the project is in full compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
He reported the Planning Commission at its October 18 meeting gave unanimous approval. He cited support of law enforcement, Fire and Rescue in better cell phone coverage. He later said the Telecommunications Act stipulates decisions cannot be made to approve a tower by localities based on the safety aspects because it is deemed safe.
“We are ready to roll. We can get the tower up and we can get you good service here quickly. The Town of Hillsville can have just as good cellular coverage as Roanoke, Charlottesville or Washington, D.C.” He mentioned this tower in its size is similar to the light poles at Tommy Thompson Field. He said the tower will not be lit at night.
The other dissenting voice in the meeting was Mark Crowder, citing turnover in the FCC and FDA from the Trump Administration and previous ties of top ranking individuals in the two agencies to Cellular companies. Crowder indicated much infrastructure changes were being made to accommodate growing “smart” devices in homes and the IoT (Internet of Things.)
“These microwaves cause water in your system to get more acidic and everybody knows more acid is more problems. Then there is it’s not going to be helping the bugs and the environment. And as far as helping tourists it would be better to have a place where they can sleep,” said Crowder, who said he felt decisions on safety and health were being made by those with “a lot of stock in the companies.” He said the emissions weren’t safe and were not good for Hillsville.
Council approved a Planning Commission recommendation to rezone two parcels of land on Airport Road from general commercial to medium density residential. Town Manager Retta Jackson said the Town Hall offices would be closed on November 23 and 24 for Thanksgiving. She reminded citizens taxes are due by December 5. Council cancelled the November 27 regular meeting for the holiday.
According to the law enforcement activity numbers report (for October 1 through November 7) of the Hillsville Police Department, 62 criminal investigations were conducted by the HPD. The report indicates the Department conducted 668 business checks, five house checks and seven welfare checks. Officers issued 388 speeding summons, 39 reckless driving summons and six summons for safety belts. The report indicates 112 warnings were issued at traffic stops.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.