The decision whether to erect a cell phone tower off Lake Pamona Road on Colonels Island remains uncertain.
Colonels Island has the reputation of being one of Liberty County’s most scenic locations.
Barry Wilkes has faced fierce opposition from several of his neighbors since he and Skylink Properties proposed building the 300-foot cell phone tower on his property. Wilkes is Liberty County clerk of courts.
The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission approved the tower and, in a controversial vote earlier this month, the county commissioners approved it.
Despite the commission’s approval, the tower can only be built if it is in accordance with one of three options, County Administrator Joey Brown said.
The tower would have to comply with ordinance 12.4.5, regulating setbacks and separations, that states the tower shall be set back at a minimum distance equal to the height of the tower from its base to an adjoining property line, attorney Derek White said.
White represents Richard Bew’s, one of Wilkes’ neighbors, who opposes the tower
According to the ordinance, for example, if the tower were 300 feet tall, it would have to be at least 300 feet from a neighbor’s property line or from any structure that could potentially be crushed or damaged if the tower were to fall, White said.
Since the 300-foot tower does not meet the ordinance, it would have to be lowered to a height where it would comply, Brown said.
Jim Gilly of Gilly Development, who has proposed a 300-foot tower off Camp Viking Road, said the tower could only be lowered to about 275 feet because the profitability and efficiency of it decreases as its height decreases.
If the tower were lowered to 250 feet, the various cell phone carriers would most likely not be interested because with the diminished capacity it would no longer be economically viable, Gilly said.
But Brown said that even if the tower were lowered to 275 feet, it would not meet the requirements of the ordinance.
The second option would be to get written consent from the abutting or adjoining property owners to allow Skylink to build the tower at an agreed upon height, Brown said.
This means the fall zone of the tower would cross onto one or more of the neighboring properties, and if these neighbors consent, then they would not be able to construct anything on their property within the given fall zone, White said.
The abutting property owners are Kim Bacon, Joel Rushing and Richard Bew, and as of yet, none have been willing to consent, White said.
If no consensus can be reached to bypass the ordinance, then the LCPC would have to grant Wilkes and Skylink a variance, and after that, the county commission could approve it, Brown said.
“A variance is a deviation from what the normal regulations would require,” planning commission employee Gabby Hartage said.
Obtaining a telecommunications variance is different than obtaining a normal construction variance for a building or structure, and it can be difficult to have the variance pass, Gilly said.
“Variances are usually granted if neighboring property owners do not object to what is being constructed, and in this case there is a good deal of opposition,” White said. “Also, if the LCPC and commission were to grant this variance, they are setting a precedent for anyone who wants to build a cell tower on their property.”
“(The commission) should never have passed this motion,” County Commissioner Marion Stevens said. “Why should we grant a variance when the Lake Pamona neighborhood is against it? If you’re going to look out for the people, then you must stand for the people.”
Wilkes’ attorney, Tom Ratcliffe, and a representative of Skylink properties could not be reached for comment for this story.