Cell Tower: Officials Frustrated They Can’t Consider Health Issues

There’s something about a cell tower proposed for a vacant lot near Lake Hunter that’s frustrating city commissioners: Even though many residents have expressed health concerns about the tower, a federal rule bars commissioners from considering those concerns when they decide whether to approve the tower.

The source of their ire is a 1990s Federal Communications Commission rule that prohibits them from considering health-related issues in deliberating cell tower placement.

The proposed 150-foot, “unipole” tower would be placed in the center of an 11-acre triangle that takes up most of the land bounded by Ariana Street, Unitah Avenue and Sikes Boulevard. Lakeland Christian School is to the south; Lake Hunter is to the north.

Commissioners were briefed on the proposal this morning by Matt Lyons, the city’s chief planner. Two land-use issues involving the tower will be mentioned at their meeting on Monday; commissioners will take public comment on the tower during a hearing scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 16.

The reason the tower was requested is because “Technology keeps advancing” and people are relying more on smartphones, Lyons said. The tower will be able to accommodate five cell providers.

Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley said she has heard about health concerns from many people living near the proposed tower, including parents of children at Lakeland Christian School.

Commissioner Phillip Walker said he, too, is concerned about “the health risk factor.”

The tower viewed from Lake Hunter Drive and Unitah Avenue in a rendering provided by the applicant

Commissioner Chad McLeod said people don’t expect commissioners to ignore potential health risks. “We have to be able to explain that,” he said. “It’s a hard one.”

Several residents of the Dixieland neighborhood showed up to oppose the tower when it was approved 4-1 by the city Planning and Zoning Board on Oct 20.

Lyons said the tower conforms to city rules requiring people to be two feet away for every foot in height of the tower.

People aren’t always aware of nearby towers, Lyons said, because some of them are disguised as steeples. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said.

The tower wouldn’t be a problem for planes, said Commissioner Scott Franklin, a former military pilot. But helicopters are a different story, he said, and the tower would need to be well lit.

Lyons said nothing else could be built on the site other than low equipment storage that would be hidden by dense foliage the owners will be required to keep in place.

Nichole Travis, director of community and economic development, told commissioners  that city staff would provide a list of nearby cell towers and their locations and would provide research about the medical dangers of cell towers.

LkldNow Editor Barry Friedman contributed to this report.

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