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County officials fear more cell phone towers
Created: 2 Mar 2008
Kanawha County officials fear a rash of requests to build cellular phone towers will lead to a cell tower arms race.

"I'm against having cell towers every five feet," Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Thursday.

Earlier this month, Kanawha County planning officials approved a request by Verizon to build five cellular phone towers in unincorporated parts of the county. A request to build three more Verizon towers will be considered by the county planning commission on March 12.

Planning officials also just approved a request by AT&T to build two cell towers along the West Virginia Turnpike near Paint Creek.

Carper and other county officials worry that Verizon's requests will set off a rash of requests from other cellular phone providers looking to compete with Verizon.

"Theoretically, you could hang a hot dog out your car window now and have it cooked by the RF [radiation] from all these cell towers," Carper said.

County officials have fought the proliferation of cellular phone towers before. In the late 1990s, county officials got so many requests to build cell towers they decided to write a special ordinance to try to control the spread of the towers.

In 2001, fearing the county would turn into a cell tower jungle, the Kanawha County Commission passed an ordinance requiring approval from the county planning commission for any cell tower more that 40 feet high.

"We were on the cutting edge when we did this," Carper said. The ordinance, tougher than rules passed by many cities, requires cellular phone companies to place their cell towers well back from roads and away from houses. Cell companies must provide before-and-after photographs of what the cell tower would look like, and are asked to share cell towers with other cellular phone companies if at all possible.

If they can't share a tower, companies have to prove why not.

County Planning Director Susan Blake said officials for Verizon turned in several requests at once because the company is just now breaking into the local cellular phone business. Earlier this month, Verizon got permission to build cell towers on Middle Ridge and near Loudendale south of Charleston, along Interstate 79 near the Elkview exit and near Big Fork, and along U.S. 119 near Young's Bottom.

Blake said planning officials approved the new towers because there weren't any other cell towers within two miles of Verizon's requested sites. "You're talking about an underserved area here," she said.

Two cell towers AT&T got permission to build along the West Virginia Turnpike near Dawes and Paint Creek will help plug holes in cellular phone service along the turnpike, said planning commission subdivision manager John Luoni.

Requests by Verizon to build cell towers in Alum Creek, Miami and along Interstate 79 near Jordan will be heard in March.

Carper understands the need to provide better cell phone service for local residents. "If they're not next to your house, you want as many cell towers as they can build," he said.

But Carper said communication needs must be balanced with protecting property values, sight lines and safety of residents.
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Source: Charleston Gazette, Rusty Marks, 29 Feb 2008

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