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Aldermen: City cell tower law merits review

August 26, 2012

The Starkville Board of Aldermen voted to deny C Spire Wireless’s appeal for variances from city laws needed to erect a 100-foot cellular tower at its meeting Aug. 27.

In voting, the board agreed with a decision the Starkville Board of Adjustments and Appeals made July 28 to reject two variance requests from C Spire. First, city law typically requires cellular towers to be set back from all other property at a distance no less than the tower’s height, but C Spire requested a 60-foot setback for a 100-foot tower.

Second, cellular towers typically have to be at least 2,640 feet from the nearest residential district, but C Spire asked to build the tower 60 feet away from the district.

This is the second site proposal C Spire has brought before the city in an effort to improve coverage in west Starkville. Dave Miller, C Spire media relations manager, said finding a suitable site has become frustrating.

“We are disappointed,” Miller said. “It has been an extensive process now, to have an intial site, have one objector, then at the suggestion of the city ... come up with an alternative site, have no formal opposition and still have the site ultimately rejected by the city.”

Initially, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver made a motion to override the BOAA’s recommendation and grant the variances. This motion failed 4-2, with Carver and Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker voting in favor of it. Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey then made a motion to accept the BOAA’s recommendation, which passed in another 4-2 vote. Miller said it is too early to determine C Spire’s exact response to the variance denial.

“We’re not giving up,” Miller said. “We still need to provide improved service in that area, and we’re going to need to consider all of our options. We need to reach an agreement with the city for a suitable site in that area. What we do want to do is try to sit down with the city and RMR (Investment Company, LLC) and try to plan a path forward.”

Representatives from C Spire initially came before the BOAA and the Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission in December 2011 concerning a tower location near Pinelake Baptist Church. C Spire’s request faced opposition from RMR in Memphis, Tenn, which owned 300 acres adjacent to C Spire’s proposed location. Representatives from RMR expressed concern about the tower adversely affecting its property value and suggested a second location, which C Spire found suitable for its needs.

This location near the Stark Crossing subdivision was the one requiring the two setback variances, which the BOAA rejected in July. At that meeting, BOAA chair Milo Burnham said 60 feet is too little distance between a residential area and a cellular tower, but he also said 2,640 feet might be too far — enough to prevent cellular companies from building towers in Starkville. Burnham reiterated his stance on the issue Tuesday.

“We’ve got to do something. C Spire needs an answer, and they need help,” Burnham said. “I don’t think the board of adjustments and appeals was opposed to the C Spire tower. They were opposed to the fact of putting it in a backyard. Maybe we just need to sit down and talk about this thing and see what can be done.”

Mayor Pro Tempore Sandra Sistrunk presided over discussion of the tower when Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman recused himself. Sistrunk said she and other board members understand the ordinance may need to be re-evaluated as Burnham suggests.

“I think that like any of the ordinances we have that have been on the books for a long time, it merits review, especially ordinances that deal with technology and areas that are changing rapidly,” Sistrunk said.

It will take time before such review is of use to companies like C Spire, Sistrunk said. Ordinance changes typically require extensive research before aldermen even begin evaluating them, she said, and they require at least two public hearings.

“It’s not a quick process in any circumstances,” Sistrunk said. “I suspect if it does become a community issue, the more people get involved, the more differences of opinion you would have.”

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