A cell phone tower just off of West Washington Street could lead to changes in city ordinances, but unfortunately for a handful of adjacent residents, there won’t be any action that will relieve their situation.
In April, residents along West Washington, whose properties back up to the old Lee jeans’ plant where the 250-foot tower now stands, appeared before the Fayetteville Board of Mayor and Aldermen, expressing their dissatisfaction with the tower’s presence in their back yard and asking officials for help.
Board members had asked City Attorney Johnny Hill to study the matter and return his opinion to the board during their May work session. In that session Thursday morning, Hill said the city’s planning commission had acted appropriately in relation to city ordinances when the proposal for a cell tower was approved.
“Had the planning commission denied the request, there would have likely been a lawsuit, which would have been drawn out and costly to the city,” said Hill Thursday, adding that he would not have recommended that the planning commission act any differently.
There was a 60-day window during which an appeal could have been filed prior to the tower’s erection, he said, but that would have been more of a process to determine if the city had acted appropriately.
“If the board requests removal of the tower, we would be opening ourselves up to removal costs and potential damages,” Hill continued. “I can’t find any legal footing for removal – it would be an improper use of eminent domain.”
In regard to an FHA loan that had been sought to assist in the purchase of one of the properties, Hill said he did find that there is a process that could be used to maneuver around the issue.
Alderman Danny Bryant asked whether the city could change guidelines governing such towers, and Ryan Tyhuis, responsible for planning and codes, indicated that the city could modify regulations.
“I think we ought to do that,” Bryant said.
“If we did do that, we need to know it’s rock solid … that they can’t get around it,” added Alderman Marty Pepper.
The possible action, though, will not remedy concerns for residents living in the tower’s shadow, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of a remedy in the situation.
“Don’t be concerned about a lawsuit from a cell phone tower company,” said Olen Mitchell, one of the property owners impacted. “Be concerned about the residents – your citizens – who you are responsible for protecting.”
“I think you were negligent when you failed to see how this would impact your residents,” added Martha Brown, who sees and hears the tower clicking everyday, going on to add that she had planned to downsize and buy a smaller home, but the tower’s presence will make selling her property at a fair price less likely.
“Maybe it won’t happen again,” said Mayor John Ed Underwood. “It would be nice if we all had a crystal ball, but we didn’t.”
“You need to be proactive instead of reactive and take care of the citizens,” added Mitchell, admonishing the board for not having investigated the tower’s potential impact on residents.