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Cell tower proposals denied in Macon

A pair of proposed 180-foot cell phone towers met some adamant opposition at the Aug. 20 Macon County Commissioners meeting. The applications, proposed by two separate companies for two separate locations, were both denied, but for technical reasons that make it likely they’ll resurface. 

“When they do all their due diligence I’m sure their application will be seen again,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who chaired the meeting. 


Tower Engineering on West Old Murphy Road

One of the towers, planned on a property along West Old Murphy Road owned by Brian Borchers, brought out a total of six speakers, with all but the company representative coming out against the tower. Though ultimately denied because the application didn’t spell out which communications company would be using it or where the antenna would be located, the owners of adjacent properties had other reasons for wanting to see the tower go elsewhere. 

“The main concern I have is what it’s going to do to my property value,” said James Banks, who owns the house nearest Borchers’. “I already took a beating on it because of the banks. I bought it when it was the highest.”

The proposed tower would be located within one-tenth a mile of the road, and area residents asked why it couldn’t instead be built further up the hill, since Borchers’ property reaches back much further away from the road. 

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“I would like to see the details as to why that is the tower site,” said James Rehberg, an electrical engineer who lives in Macon, Georgia and regularly visits his mother-in-law’s home in Franklin, adjacent to Borchers’ property. “I don’t know why it couldn’t be located two or 300 feet up the mountain from the same lessor.”

Rehberg also recommended that commissioners ask the company for a justification of the tower’s proposed height rather than automatically giving the go-ahead for the maximum height allowed by ordinance. 

Residents told commissioners that they recognized the importance of having strong cell coverage in Macon County but asked whether there is any strategy in place to make sure that the only towers that are built are the towers that are needed.

The tower in question, for instance, had been proposed by Tower Engineering Professionals, a company that builds towers but does not provide service from them. Though several companies have expressed interest in the tower — including Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T — no one knows exactly whose antenna would be on the tower. 

“Jackson County requires anybody who builds a tower to allow anybody to have that tower and pay a rent for that tower, and if that was the case I would have service and my neighbors would have service,” said Les Slater, “and I think you should require, similar to Jackson County and other counties, that you authorize a tower that it be required that anybody can be on that tower.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to deny the application and advised Tower Engineering to consider looking for a site farther away from the neighbors. 

“It’s going to be very hard for me to approve even if you come back with the study because of the houses,” said Commissioner Ron Haven. “These folks are taxpayers and highly invested in Macon County. I would encourage you to look up the hill.”

“We’d be glad to look farther up the hill if that’s what’s needed,” said company representative Justin Cosgrove. 


Verizon on Bud Perry Road

Citizens also came out to speak their mind about a Verizon tower proposed along Bud Perry Road. Like the Tower Engineering proposal, the application met a recommendation for denial from County Planner Matt Mason, this time because of concerns about its proximity to the county airport.  

“It’s almost in the flat path, and since we’ve had our runway extended 5,000 feet our jet traffic has increased tremendously,” said Macon County Airport Authority Chairman Miles Gregory. “We’re very concerned about this tower being built where they propose to build it.”

The county’s ordinance states that no tower can be so high that it requires lights or reflectors to illuminate it for airplanes, and because of the proposed location’s proximity to the airport, reflectors would be needed even though the tower would be within the 180-foot height limit that applies elsewhere. 

Gregory was also afraid that building the tower as proposed could jeopardize the airport’s Federal Aviation Administration funding. 

“If they’ll get approval from FAA in black and white I don’t care if you build it halfway to heaven, but we want to see approval from FAA that they’ll put their stamp of approval on the site,” Gregory said. 

Reggie and Pam Perry, who live in the area but couldn’t attend the meeting, wrote a letter to be read there noting that the road in question is maintained by residents, so if a company built a tower there they should be responsible for some of that upkeep.

“If a cell tower is put on our road, the company should be a major part of all the maintenance if they are going to be making a profit on its use,” the letter read.

“I think it’s not that we don’t need this service, but cell towers are very disruptive to a lot of neighborhoods,” Beale told George Sistrunk, the company’s representative. “I would ask you if this is not feasible just to please keep looking in that area.”

“I don’t expect them to drop it if it doesn’t work,” Sistrunk said, “but since they have spent time on this site they would like to make it work if possible.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to deny the application but invited Verizon to try again once they get the kinks worked out. 

“I’m really strongly wanting to have cell phone coverage in Macon County,” Haven said.

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