Facing lawsuit, county reaches settlement in cell tower dispute
Catoosa County commissioners, after unanimously denying a proposal for a 160-foot cell tower near Dietz Road in December, has agreed to a compromise by allowing the company erect a pole instead.
The company, Gulfshore Towers (GST) Capital Partners, LLC, had its eye on building a new T-Mobile cell tower. After the special-use permit to do so was denied by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Commissioners, the company filed a lawsuit.
“GST Capital Partners filed a suit contending that we violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in denying the special-use permit for the cell tower, and then failing to grant the variance,” County Attorney Clifton “Skip” Patty said during the Board of Commissioner’s March 20 meeting. “The case originated with the filing of the specialuse permit for a 260foot lattice tower to be constructed. After the lawsuit was filed, federal procedure requires that the lawyers confer about the issues in the case and a settlement was discussed. GSP Capital Partners has agreed to modify their plans for a cell tower on this property. They have agreed to place a 150foot mono-pole and let this be a single pole rather than a lattice pole as a settlement of the litigation.”
The biggest reason for denial by both boards last year was due to the impact a new tower would have in the residential setting of Daily Mill Road.
The tower also would have violated two guidelines of the county’s code: being higher than 100 feet and being within 1,000 feet of a residence.
Patty explained the pros and cons of agreeing to the proposed settlement.
“The cons would be that if we lose the litigation, then GSP Capital Partners would have the right to build the 260-foot lattice tower,” Patty said. “The pros are that if we settle, there’s the monopole with lightning rod, which is far less intrusive than the lattice tower.”
Residents of the area in question, some of whom also attended the Dec. 19 meeting when the initial idea was shot down, sat through the March 20 meeting, executive session, and re-opened session just to offer input on the matter.
Commission Chairman Steven Henry asked the engineer to come up and show plans for the proposed pole. After looking over the plans, Henry and Commissioner Jim Cutler took those blueprints and photos to the residents in attendance and showed them what is being proposed in the settlement and what could be installed if the county were to lose in court.
“The problem is, federal law trumps county or state,” Henry told one resident.
The exchange was a little different than the standard protocol of having residents voice their complaints one by one at the podium.
“I know that was a little bit unorthodox, but I felt it was pertinent to involve the people closest to where this tower is going to be,” Henry explained.
Ultimately, the settlement was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Bobby Winters voting no.
Additional tower proposals
In addition to the settlement issue, the commission also had to decide on two other cell tower proposals from Verizon Wireless.
The first proposal was for a tower on Boynton Drive at Molton Lane, and the second on Warren Road near Old Pine Grove Road off Battlefield Parkway.
Ralph Winegarden with Faulk and Foster Real Estate of Grand Rapids, Mich., spoke on behalf of Verizon Wireless.
“Sites like this present a dilemma because as residential development and other development increase, the need is more and more there for handling the capacity and demand presented by that development,” Winegarden said. “Residential protections are kind of more and more constrictive in terms of what locations are out there for us.”
The board voted to approve the tower on Warren Road, but denied the request to build the one on Boynton Drive due to its proximity to two different apartment complexes and Wilson’s Funeral Home.