Both sides weigh in on telecommunication towers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2000

Jack Stephens said he knew nothing about telecommunication towers until a few months ago. That’s when Vanguard Towers came forward with plans to erect a tower near his father’s business on Jefferson Davis Boulevard.

Now Stephens’ concerns over communication towers extend far beyond the tower on Jeff Davis Boulevard to include the city’s ordinance.

The ordinance

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&uot;Do we want fewer taller towers or more shorter towers? Stephens asked. &uot;And if we want more shorter towers, our current ordinance is perfect.&uot;

Under the city’s ordinance, companies like Vanguard who are denied variances for taller towers can easily opt for 200-foot towers with no questions asked, Stephens said.

&uot;I’m not critical of the city,&uot; he said. &uot;This is a well-intentioned ordinance. It just hasn’t been tested.&uot;

The city only recently has been forced to deal with communication towers, and the rapid rate at which requests are being presented now has caused the city to react, rather than act upon, the towers, Stephens said.

Stephens also believes the ordinance is flawed by inconsistencies and loopholes, such as omitting fall zone requirements for commercial areas.

&uot;The telecommunication companies think it’s a great ordinance, because it’s got more holes than Swiss cheese,&uot; he said.

The fall zone

&uot;They say these towers are designed to withstand 80 mile-per-hour winds with one-half inch of ice for 100 straight days,&uot; he said. &uot;Now how do you test something like that?&uot;

Stephens said he does not trust claims from tower manufacturers and installation companies that the towers are engineered to hold up against any conditions.

&uot;But what if just one time it doesn’t?&uot; Stephens asked.

Property values

But concerns don’t end there, Stephens said. Safety questions combine with the unsightliness of the towers to the detriment of surrounding property values.

&uot;Who has caused my reduction in property values? The city (by allowing the tower)? Is it the tower company?&uot; Stephens asked.

Stephens also questioned the placement of some of the communication towers along major thoroughfares where tourists — the lifeblood of Natchez — can easily spot them.

The future

While they are in high demand now, Stephens said he foresees a day when communication towers will be obsolete, surpassed by satellite technology.

The majority of tower companies and wireless service carriers depend on private landowners to lease the land on which the towers are erected.

&uot;Is the landowner going to be the person who is going to be responsible for taking it down?&uot; Stephens asked.

Stephens and other critics of the city’s ordinance believe an amended ordinance should include a requirement for performance bonds on the towers.

&uot;We’re dealing with corporations which may or may not be around in the future to remove these towers,&uot; he said.

&uot;I’m by no means against progress, I just think we need to look at what we’re doing,&uot; he said.

Through tabled applications, public hearing debates and now a moratorium, Guy Stout of Vanguard Towers, LLC, has perhaps been the lone voice in defense of telecommunication towers and the city’s ordinance which governs them.

In the telecommunication industry for almost 10 years, Stout said, many of the concerns surrounding communcication towers are unfounded.

The ordinance

&uot;I feel like the ordinance in general is a good ordinance,&uot; Stout said. &uot;No matter how much expertise you want to put into crafting an ordinance, you’re going to have variances.&uot;

Adopted in 1998, the city’s ordinance permits &uot;by right&uot; towers less than 200 feet in height in properly zoned areas. In other words, permission from the Natchez Metro Planning Commission is not required for such towers.

&uot;As far as Natchez is concerned, the city does themselves no favors by limiting themselves to (towers of) 200 feet,&uot; he said.

Still, Stout said he is not fighting for taller towers necessarily, but &uot;effective towers&uot; — towers that would best serve the city’s wireless communication needs.

The fall zone

The city’s ordinance requires a tower to be two feet away from a residential area for every one foot in height, meaning a 100-foot tower must be 200 feet from a residence.

Stout said the fall zone radius is more than adequate, because communication towers, particularly the monopole design, don’t fall.

&uot;Basically, it takes a catastrophic force (to cause a tower to fail) to such an extent that surrounding buildings would be utterly destroyed,&uot; he said.

Stout said he requested the opinion of one of the leading tower manufacturers in the country on Natchez’s fall zone.

The reply? &uot;They said they have never even heard of a monopole tower falling,&uot; Stout said.

Property values

Stout said recent study of telecommunication towers in the Jackson metropolitan area concluded that both new and existing towers had no effect on the resale values of nearby homes.

&uot;In no occasion did they find it decreased the value of property,&uot; he said.

In fact, Stout said he believes as people become more dependent on wireless communication, the proximity of a tower will become important to property owners.

&uot;I don’t stay in a hotel that doesn’t have good cellular service,&uot; he said.

The future

Stout said he does not agree with predictions that communication towers will be made obsolete by advances in technology.

&uot;These towers being outdated in 10 years is as likely as the wires above your house being obsolete in 10 years,&uot; he said.

A growing reliance on wireless communication combined with the large sums of money invested in the construction of the towers, have Stout confident that landowners will not be left with abandoned towers. &uot;It’s not something that somebody is going to walk away from,&uot; he said.