Lookout Mountain Considers 2 Proposals For New Cell Phone Towers - Disguised As Flag Pole Or Pine Tree

Friday, May 2, 2014 - by Gail Perry

Two companies are competing to build a new cell tower on Lookout Mountain. A public informational meeting was held Thursday night to discuss inadequate cell phone service in Lookout Mountain, Tn.,  and the proposals for a new cell phone tower to alleviate the problem.

The town has hired attorney Jim Murphy from Nashville, who specializes in land use problems, as a consultant on the issue. Lookout Mountain, Tn., passed a new cell phone ordinance that will allow construction of a new tower and which provides the town some input as to the location and aesthetics of the structure. Mr. Murphy told residents at the meeting that this ordinance was based on federal and state requirements which make it impossible to restrict a cell phone company from providing service. 

The new ordinance does have a preference for co-location, which is the practice of locating antennae from multiple carriers onto a single tower. For this to work, each antennae must be spaced, which is a consideration when determining the height that the tower needs to be. The goal is to have only one additional tower.

In order for a cell phone to work, the phone must communicate with the antennae and to do that must have a line-of-sight. It was explained that buildings, vegetation and terrain interfere and make connections difficult. On the mountain, the terrain and trees present problems.

The existing antennae are all mounted on the water tower. That location has been enhanced as much as possible, town officials have been told. It has been determined that the only solution is to build a second tower.

Wireless Properties and AT&T both had representatives present to give details of what they recommend. Henry Glascock told the gathering that he was being paid by Wireless Properties as a liaison to the community. As a lifetime resident of Lookout Mountain, Mr. Glascock said he is an opponent of cell towers, water towers and telephone poles but that all are necessary. Wireless Properties is an independent company that would lease space to a number of wireless providers. He said the company is committed to doing what the town wants and to what the commissioners dictate.

Two proposals have been made by Wireless Properties, one for a “mono-pine structure,” and another option of a flagpole structure that would conceal all the equipment inside the pole. Both options would be 120 feet tall. As a point of reference, Dwight Montague, town consultant, said the tallest structure currently on the mountain is the New York Monument at Point Park, which is 95 feet.  The mono-pine tower would be located on land behind city hall and the pole would replace the flagpole at the driveway to the municipal building. Matt Bates, senior vice president of the company, said a flagpole construction would limit the type of equipment used and the mock tree would have more flexibility, but that similar service could be expected from either. He added that their studies indicate that a height of 120 feet will fit the requirements of many carriers and will allow for expansion.  

It is the opinion of AT&T the capabilities of a flag pole structure would be limited, said Mary Stewart Lewis. She put forth the proposition for a mock pine tree structure that would be located on the wooded lot behind city hall. The suggested height again is 120 feet in order to have space for antennae from multiple carriers. Trees growing around that location range from 60 to 70 feet, commented one resident. Ms. Lewis said that the tower as proposed could provide space for four carriers or five with an extension. Some carriers have “roaming agreements” with larger companies so that the same tower could possibly accommodate up to six carriers.

Ms. Lewis contends that more than one flag pole structure would be needed if that option is chosen. “I respectably disagree,” said Mr. Glascock. He said that the pine tree tower is obtrusive and either option will have an adverse effect on the houses around it, but the flagpole does not have as much volume at the top. An engineer from AT&T estimated that a mock tree would be around 20 feet wide at the top and depending on the design, around 18 to 24 feet at the base.

Neither company addressed the space that is needed for necessary equipment around the base of a tower, which is considerable. After the meeting, when asked, a representative from AT&T said the large structures to hold apparatus would be needed for each carrier with an antenna on the tower. The space needed for this could cover an area as large as 50 by 50 feet on the ground.

According to studies and maps done by AT&T, even with a new tower built near the center of the service area, it is expected that zones north of the water tower would still have no service. Ms. Lewis said after a new tower is complete the old antennae on the water tower could possibly be adjusted to improve signal quality between the water tower and Point Park. Coverage from the new tower is not a perfect circle on the south end of the town either, because of the terrain on the mountain, she said when showing the expected improvements on a map. Homeowners in a location without service can request a macro cell device from their carrier that will improve reception in their homes, Ms. Lewis said.

Mayor Carol Mutter told the gathering that the commissioners have been cognizant of the houses around proposed locations of the cell tower and have been looking for the least obtrusive location. “In our judgment around town hall is the best choice,” she said.

Attorney Murphy concluded the meeting saying that this is still in the early stages of the process and that another public meeting will take place which will encourage more input and opportunities for citizen comments. An image of the actual sites with the structures drawn to scale and superimposed was requested so they can be distributed to residents of the town.

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