On Tuesday evening the LHHA heard from Baker Towers, LLC, the company which is planning to build a cell phone tower in our neighborhood. Mary Miller, a lawyer, made a presentation for Branch. Although allotted 15 minutes, the presentation went on for twice that. It was a classic “dog & pony show”, an exercise in deception, dodging, and what magicians call ‘misdirection’. Ms. Miller started out telling us about the growth of cell phone use world-wide and the increasing use of smart phones, iPads, and other wireless devices. She mentioned figures in the billions while ignoring the fact that we were concerned with the 400 families who live here in Lakemoor Hills. Then she proceeded to give reasons why a new tower was needed. First, she claimed “our customers” are complaining about service. Wrong! Her customer is Branch, LLC, the tower company; their customer is T-Mobil – and any other company to whom they might lease tower services. I’m sure there are cell phone users who have poor service, but I doubt that there are many T-Mobil customers in Lakemoor Hills.
The next ‘reason’ given for this tower was the threat from ‘regulators’ about “losing our license” if we don’t provide enough coverage. As someone who has experience with ‘regulators’ let me assure you they are mostly captives of the industries they supposedly regulate and their main function is to ensure that the big players get what they want. To support this claim about coverage Ms. Miller showed two color coded maps that she said showed the current coverage and the change that this tower would make. From where I sat, it was clear that the increases were marginal at best and did virtually nothing to help Lakemoor Hills.
Ms. Miller went on to claim that “we have looked at dozens (hundreds?) of potential sites.” She had a few comments about some sites when asked, but was unable to provide any evidence of this vast search that somehow managed to make our neighborhood its target. When asked about the many medevac helicopter flights over this area, she said that they already had FAA approval and added that, at 190 ft., the tower would not require a light. Someone asked to see what the FAA approval looked like, again, Ms. Miller claimed to have left the paperwork at home.
Someone asked about having a tower that looks like a tree and Ms. Miller said that at 190 ft. that was impossible. Since this meeting, Mr. Tupper who is leasing his land to Branch for the tower, wrote that he was told the tower would look like a tree and would be surrounded by a foliage covered fence and thus almost invisible. While peddling this story, the company or Ms. Miller apparently also missed telling Mr. Tupper that over 10,000 sq. ft. of mature forest on his land would be clear cut. When asked about who could see the tower and from where, Miller said that she could do a “balloon test” – running a tethered balloon up from the site to 190 ft. in the air. Then she began backpedaling, saying that it couldn’t come from the exact site because of the trees, and that the wind might affect it, etc, etc. Don’t expect any balloon test in the near future.
Many people at the meeting asked about and suggested alternative sites for this tower and all were told that “we will certainly look at that.” However, Ms. Miller had already displayed a site map that was a highly detailed architectural-type plan. The map included a 10 ft. chain link fence topped with barbed wire surrounding a 100 X 100 ft. clear cut area where the tower would stand. One person, a Ms. Ward, got up and pointed to the outline of her house on this map. Not only was it dwarfed by the tower site across the street, but as she pointed out, this proximity to a microwave junction is known to cause all kinds of health problems including cancer. Ms. Miller had no reply to this. It would seem that Branch’s mind is made up and their plan is in motion.
Another question Ms. Miller dodged was, “what is your time frame?” At least two people asked this and were told, “we’ve asked for a postponement and the meeting won’t happen until July.” The questioners were clearly asking about when Branch plans to drive a bulldozer into our neighborhood. Not wanting to answer that, Ms. Miller kept referring to the date of the MPC meeting at which Branch’s plan would be considered.
The winner for bogus answers, however, came when someone said that this tower would lower property values. Ms. Miller replied that “studies have shown that property values aren’t affected.” This brought out a loud grown from the audience which clearly saw through this. There may be such studies, but if there are, all they really tell you is who paid for them.
Of all the people who will be impacted by this tower if we don’t stop it, Ms. Ward is the most unfortunate. She moved into her home only six weeks ago. Imagine if that was you and your new home – or just remember how much you love the ‘quiet side of the river.’ I think Ms. Ward’s cause and ours are the same.
The process for approval of starts at the MPC (Municipal Planning Commission), may go to the BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals), and finally to the County Commission. I’m not sure about the details, but I’m willing to find out and post them here. Whether we need to show up at meetings en masse, write letters to whomever, or bring lawsuits, I don’t know. But if we don’t want this thing in Lakemoor Hills, we better get ourselves together and fight it.
One final thought: if this is a residential neighborhood, it probably doesn’t allow commercial structures and ventures. If I decided to lease my front yard to a guy who wanted to put in an auto body shop, I’m pretty sure I’d have crossed some kind of line. What’s the difference between that and someone in our neighborhood leasing his property to a company that is going to erect a large commercial structure and conduct business utilizing that structure? Beats me!
Jim Gray firstname.lastname@example.org