When Co-location Is Not an Option

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Although a UScellular cell tower already stands nearby, the Madison, NC Board of Adjustment has voted 3 to 1 to grant a conditional use permit to Verizon to erect its own tower. As the Citizen Times reports, the discussion has gone on for months. Neighbors Tony and Jessica Gunduz have challenged the tower proposal, pointing to the existing tower and complaining that the new tower would be too close to their house.

The problem with co-locating on the existing tower is that it is already crowded, according to local authorities. Verizon’s legal counsel, attorney Tom Johnson from the law firm of Williams Mullin, pointed out that adding equipment to the current tower would put it over the capacity limits outlined in town ordinances. He explained that the additional hardware needed would overwhelm the tower’s structural integrity making co-location impossible.

As you add more load to it, it tries to turn over more,” agreed structural engineer Avery Fann of Kimley-Horn, who served as a consultant. “The previous engineer’s usage on the structure was very close to capacity, so adding more into the tower will bring it over capacity. The foundation system is just underneath the threshold, so any additional loading that would be added to this site in the future without taking something off would likely push the foundation to failure as well.”

Johnson also pointed to a North Carolina General Assembly ordinance that recognizes that co-location is not always a viable option. He said other options are up for discussion if, according to the ordinance, “co-location is technically or commercially impractical, or the owner of the existing wireless support structure is unwilling to enter into a contract for such use at fair market value.” He argued that the co-location option had been exhausted, leaving Verizon no choice but to build a new cell tower.

Attorney Rupa Russe, representing the Gunduzes questioned the timing and completeness of Verizon’s application in an attempt to sway the Board’s decision on a possible technicality. However, Johnson told The Times that “The Board, in its first hearing, had a lot of discussion about whether the UScellular tower would work, including structurally would it work. So that discussion was [already held] at [the earlier September meeting]. So the board was well aware that that was part of the proceeding.”

With the conditional use permit approved, the Gunduzes have 30 days to decide whether or not to file an appeal.

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