Hillsville residents voiced opposition to a proposed new cell phone tower during the Town Council’s September 25 meeting. Paraphrasing the words of U.S. Cellular spokesperson Attorney Dick Gibson of Charlottesville, “Everyone wants good cell phone service but no one wants cellphone towers.”
The next step in the process is a meeting with the Town Planning Commission on October 8 at 6 p.m. to discuss the site plan based on the zoning ordinance. Council held the joint public hearing with the Hillsville Planning Commission which opens consideration of a special exception permit for U.S. Cellular. The proposed structure will be a 120-foot monopole tower with a 4-foot lightning rod in the vicinity of 205 Mill Street (a similar application by AT&T for the same location was rejected by council in the past.)
Four citizens signed up and spoke before council. Representatives present for U.S. Cellular included spokesperson Emilee Switzer, R.F. Engineer Kurt Venable, and Gibson. Hillsville resident John Johnson said he lives on Water Street in the vicinity of the proposed tower.
“I didn’t get notification of this meeting, maybe (because) I don’t have an adjoining property. The long and short of it is I’m curious for the need for a cell tower. I’m sure U.S. Cellular is making the point they absolutely have to have it but I stand on my front porch and I can see a cell tower which I think is on the other side of the Interstate,” said Johnson. “I think everyone is pretty much aware cell towers are not necessarily nice looking things. I don’t think you would want to have one in your front yard and I don’t want to have one in my front yard. That’s the long and short of it. I can’t see the need.”
Johnson said he did understand companies have contracts to transmit extra data but felt it is their problem not citizens and suggested the company could find a better location. Theresa Turner next voiced her opposition, pointing out she had delivered a petition against an earlier cellphone tower request by AT&T.
“It’s not necessary to have a tower there. You have all the land below it that is wilderness, practically. Why do you want to put it there in the view of all the old people? I don’t understand,” Turner said. “I have to look out my kitchen window, back room window and hallway and see that. I don’t understand it. I think Hillsville is a historic town and you have a historic town with a celltower. That doesn’t go with the history. I’m against it.”
Bill Jessup told Council he too could sit on his front porch and see a cell tower. He said Hillsville was a historic town and they wanted to keep it that way and wanted to go on record objecting to the proposal.
Resident Chris Cooper said the tower would also be in his backyard on Cherry Street. He asked what were the advantages or disadvantages for cellphone users with the tower? He said he is a Verizon customer and asked it the tower would interfer with his phone and internet and DirectTV?
“Did they petition the County to put it on landfill property, which is already commercial property,” asked Cooper? “It goes way out back. They have a lot of land out there and it keeps it in the general vicinity. Have they presented any specific advantages of that location?”
He asked how the tower would affect property values and wondered if the owner had to have been approached to have a lease on the property and how would it affect the sale and re-sale of the property.
“Basically, U.S. Cellular is a provider of cellular service primarily on more rural and lesser populated areas. Although you don’t get as much bang for your buck where the population is low as you do in the cities. It has identified a problem with coverage in this area,” said Gibson. “There is a weakness which is basically centered in the Town of Hillsville. The R.F. Engineer (Kurt Venable) has selected the site we are proposing as the ideal spot for the tower, the antennas to be located. Those antennas could take some traffic from adjacent towers and provide better service. Not only better cellular service but better transmission. Obviously the more people you have using the facilities the greater the demand is on it so it is U.S. Cellular’s desire to stay a little bit ahead so that people won’t be experiencing dropped calls on a more frequent basis and their data transmission doesn’t drop down to a point it’s almost useless. That’s basically the reason for citing the tower here.”
He says the 120-foot pole can accommodate other wireless carriers and it is his understanding there are two other carriers interested in locating facilities in Hillsville. He said the pole could accommodate two other antenna areas in addition to the U.S. Cellular antenna. Venable pointed out the trend towards more data use had also driven the decision as the company seeks to update its infrastructure to suit future demand. He said without the proper infrastructure customers could one day see heavy usage bring data transmission to a standstill.
“People would then have competition and wouldn’t have to deal with U.S. Cellular and could deal with one of the other carriers. It is located in an area that provides minimal visibility of the tower itself with some natural screening of the surrounding hills and the topography of the site, based on a balloon test and photo simulations is minimally visible and has no impact on the historic district of the town. Everybody is in favor of good telephone coverage. What we’ve attempted to do is give people good telephone coverage at a minimal visual impact to people in the community,” Gibson said.
Gibson said the need for better cellular coverage had only been established by complaints to the company and anecdotal evidence from employees. He said they reached out to people with a great need for the service and Emergency Services Director Everette Lineberry, Sheriff J.B. Gardner and Chief Wesley Yonce indicated they are in favor of improved cellular coverage.
“These are people that are vital to the community that use cell phones for communication on a daily basis and what they are telling us is telephone coverage is not good. We have dropped calls, missed calls and blocked calls and when we are trying to transmit data with the cellphone as a hot spot in a way that is efficient and meaningful and sometimes in a way that doesn’t even work from cruisers,” Gibson said.
Gibson said the company believes it has met all of criteria and the Center for Municipal Solutions (CMS) “bird dogged” everything they’d submitted, concluding all ordinance requirements were met.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.