Talk about a big addition to the Evans Town Center.
Two cell phone towers stand behind the Evans Government Complex. A new cell phone tower, proposed off North Belair Road near University Health Care, would be the first erected in the Evans Town Center since the center's rules were established.
Photo by Preston Sparks
At 180 feet tall, a new Alltel cell phone tower proposed to go in the Evans Town Center area near University Health Care off North Belair Road was on the radar of the Columbia County Planning Commission Thursday night.
The tower proposal received the commission's blessing, but their vote of approval came only after a detailed discussion about how officials don't want cell phone demand to eventually change the town center's landscape.
"Don't get me wrong, I love my cell phone," said Planning Commission member Ron Thigpen. "But it just concerns me that we in the county have gone to all the trouble to make this center pleasing to the eye."
Thigpen said he didn't think a cell phone tower fits in the Evans Town Center's parameters of what is considered aesthetically pleasing.
Mike Allen, a representative for Alltel, told planning commissioners the tower is badly needed because of increased cell phone demand in the Evans area. Allen said the tower won't be tall enough to require a light to warn airplanes and would be surrounded by woods on land leased to them by University Hospital.
Alltel officials also said the tower will be located a safe distance away from any buildings, and a fence surrounding the base of the tower would abide by Town Center regulations, being made of either vinyl or rod iron, not chain link material.
"Building a structure in such an area really is our last alternative," Allen said, adding his company looked at other locations in the Evans area to locate a tower but none were feasible.
Already, there are about three cell phone towers in the Evans Town Center area, two of which are directly behind the Evans Government Complex. However, they all were constructed before the parameters of the town center were devised, said Tim Young, the senior planner for Columbia County Planning and Development.
If the Alltel tower is ultimately approved by the county's board of commissioners, that would make it the first to go in under the town center guidelines, which hold strict control over development in the area.
Planning Commission member Tom Sprague had his own concerns Thursday.
"I think aesthetics should be taken into account," he said. "This is one of our locations of pride in our community. We should really know what it looks like before it goes up."
Allen told planning commissioners his company is more than willing to work with county officials on the tower's look.
"We are flexible and willing to work with planning and zoning - what you'd like to see in aesthetics," he said.
Some planning commissioners asked if the tower should be painted, but Alltel officials said that probably would make the tower only stand out more and that it should remain its regular galvanized-steel color.
There also was talk about how a tower might affect nearby hospital offices, being that visitors are asked to turn cell phones off inside a hospital for fear the signal might interfere with machinery.
Allen said that shouldn't be a problem.
Then, there was a discussion about whether more cell phone companies would eventually follow Alltel's lead. Alltel said the possibility is there, but that most companies prefer to find an existing tower because it's more cost effective.
Planning commissioners were told there are about eight cell phone carriers in the Augusta area. The proposed Alltel tower is designed to accommodate as many as five companies, but modifications could be made for more.
In the end, planning commissioner Bob Newkirk made a motion to approve the tower with the stipulation that special attention be paid to a vegetative buffer around the tower.
Following the vote, Thigpen said the county also should require cell phone companies to share towers as much as possible with other companies, preventing the need for more.
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