Two Proposed WS Cell Tower Projects Put On Hold
The Winston-Salem City Council are delaying action regarding two new cell towers in residential neighborhoods.
American Towers and AT&T want to help Winston-Salem residents in the North East and South Wards have better cell phone reception. To accomplish this, the companies recommend building a 150 foot cell phone tower in each ward. Attorney Tom Johnson is with the law firm Nexsen Pruet. It represents American Towers and AT&T for these projects. June 2, in downtown Winston-Salem, Johnson answered questions from city council members on behalf of his clients. Council members are trying to decide whether or not to approve the applications for these residential cell towers. According to Johnson, they’re necessary because of people’s rapidly advancing digital lifestyles. “People are dropping their landline phones and depending on wireless for access to services, especially emergency services in dialing 911. Nationwide, 70 percent of the 911 calls now come from wireless. In Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, it’s 70 percent-80 percent," explained Johnson. "Also, people are using their devices for data and access to broadband where they might not otherwise have it. That’s where it becomes important."
In the North East Ward, the tower would be near the 4000 block of Reidsville Road and 400 feet from the nearest home. The South Ward location is near the 2000 block of Bethel Methodist Church Lane. It’s slated to sit 300 feet from the nearest home. About 20 people from the South Ward spoke out against the project saying they already have good cell phone service. Luis Sanchez lives on Luzelle Drive. He and his wife have been in the neighborhood for 8 years. “I don’t have any dead spots. I’ve had this cell service for a year and I’ve had no dropped calls, no dead zones at all,” said Sanchez. David George lives nearby on Victoria Park Lane. "I have AT&T at the present and I have most excellent coverage. I also get 4-G quite well,” said George. Others believe the towers will force property values to drop. South Ward resident Linda Dark has lived on Luzelle Drive for 6 years. She’s worried about the long-term health effects of having a cell tower in her backyard. “I work in the health industry. There have not been a lot of long term studies in terms of what emissions do. I’m speaking of the cell towers," said Dark. "If at some point in the future we find out emissions are dangerous, they’re already here. What will we do?”The towers will either be a mono-pine, which is a fake pine tree with branches concealing the tower and antennas, or a mono-pole. This structure exposes the antennas. Residents also want the companies to disclose the maximum number of antennae each tower will hold. Both will be built in wooded areas and have a type four tree buffer around the base. Proponents said the combination will help reduce the towers’ visual impact on surrounding residents. But George disagreed. “The tower will be visible from my backyard terrace and considering all of the trees will be deciduous during the winter time, it’s nothing that shields the tower," said George. "A 150 foot high tower is a 20-story building.”
No residents from the North East Ward attended Monday night's public hearing. That worried their councilwoman, Vivian Burke. So she made a motion to postpone the public hearing on the application for her ward. "This is something new we’re treading on," said Burke. "They need to have a little more knowledge of what is happening in their area, that’s all there is to it." But Johnson assured Councilwoman Burke, American Towers and AT&T used residential mailing lists provided by Winston-Salem city staff to notify property owners. However, Johnson said there was little interest in the North East Ward. "Those notices went out. It was a letter and a sight plan with a map," he said. "We had four people show up and none were opposed. They wanted to know why we weren't doing it on their property." Still Burke wanted more time. Her motion was seconded and unanimously passed. Although none of the council members can speak directly to residents about these cell tower projects, Councilwoman Burke said she will investigate how to better inform and encourage her constituents to attend the next public hearing when this issue will be discussed. South Ward Councilwoman Molly Leight also made a motion to postpone the public hearing on the application for a cell tower in her ward. The full council also unanimously voted in favor of delaying approval of that application. Winston-Salem Council members will resume both public hearings on July 7 in City Hall.