Pewee ready for cell tower fight

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By Melissa Blankenship

The City of Pewee Valley is gearing up for a fight against a familiar opponent.

At their monthly meeting Monday night, council members learned of a plan to construct a cellular tower behind the Salem Assembly of God, a church at 209 La Grange Road.  Although no formal application has been filed with planning and zoning for the construction of the cell tower, the intent to do so has been declared. It is the same scenario at the same location council members successfully opposed 12 years ago.

Pat Payne served on the council when the first cell tower was proposed. She cited the various arguments the city made against its construction, with primary points based on its proximity to an historical district, potential decreases in property values and the lack of necessity.

“They tried to prove that we needed a tower here for better cell phone service,” Payne said. “But that just wasn’t true.”

According to council member Bethany Major, residents have previously asked for better cell coverage, but after looking into the issue it was determined that individual cell signal boosters were a viable solution and the matter was “dropped” after that. She thought, however, that the city had an ordinance in place that would prevent a cell tower build. Mayor Bob Rogers explained that the most applicable ordinance addresses, not specific structures, but the permissible height of those structures.

“They squirted under our ordinance,” Rogers said. “Our ordinance says 100 feet and they proposed 90 feet.”

Kevin Arave’s property shares a boundary with the proposed cell tower site. He was one of five families that took matters into their own hands 12 years ago to oppose the cell tower’s construction. Those families hired an attorney who created a list of potential problems that could result from the tower, including drainage issues. He also questioned the effectiveness of a cell tower in “your backyard” if it emits a signal from a specific carrier.

“People think that just because a cell tower goes up it will help cell service,” Arave said. “It would only benefit people with that carrier.”

Arave also said that many previously constructed analog towers are now being taken down due to the onset of digital services.

“Why in the world would we want a cell tower in the middle of Pewee Valley when in a few years it will be obsolete?” Arave asked.

Michele Pisano’s property also abuts the proposed site of the cell tower. She expressed concerns over safety, aesthetics and historic preservation and said she was surprised the project, which is already staked, had “gone this far” considering no adjoining property owners had received a notification of intent to construct the cell tower.

But a letter had been sent to the county’s planning and zoning director from FDH Engineering Innovation on behalf of their client FMHC Corporation. The letter states the intention to build a “wireless telecommunications facility including an approximate 90-foot tall self-supporting, monopole-type tower and the construction of associated support equipment with an approximate 90-foot by 90-foot area fenced-in facility at the base of the tower.” The letter fulfills a requirement to ascertain potential impacts to “historical resources” according to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The city provided copies of an email response from Urban to the engineering firm that listed two historic districts and two specific historic homes that are either adjacent to or would abut the site of the cell tower. The city attorney said that relying on existing regulations like the one from NHPA, not hastily writing new ordinances or amending existing ordinances trying to prohibit the cell tower’s construction as was suggested during the meeting, would be the most effective means to oppose the plan.

“Telecommunications are heavily regulated by federal law. The goal of the federal law is to make new technology more readily available more broadly,” said John Singler, city attorney. “It also discourages local regulation, so efforts in that regard are more than likely going to be counterproductive. I recommend that you work within the regulatory status available to you.”

Regardless of the approach, residents in attendance at Monday night’s meeting overwhelmingly expressed their concern about the cell tower proposal and wanted the city to do everything it can to prevent it from being built.

“I live on Ash Avenue and my property backs up to where they want to put the tower,” said Matt Weaver. “I’m a realtor and I use my cell phone every minute of every day. When I walked into my house before I bought it, I only had two bars. Then I walked out the back and looked at the trees and the deer and all the great things about living in Pewee Valley and I was okay about that. I’m not okay with this tower. I need you guys…to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

The city unanimously voted to oppose the placement of a cell tower at the proposed location. The city attorney and mayor now have the city’s approval to take whatever actions they deem necessary to oppose the construction of the cell tower.

E-mail us about this story at publisher@oldhamera.com.