By JASON DUNOVANT

At its Feb. 13 meeting, the Franklin County Planning Commission chose not to support plans for a new cellphone tower in Scruggs.

Commission members voted 4-1, with two members absent, to deny the request for a special-use permit to construct a 199-foot cellphone tower at the intersection of Windlass Road and Back Nine Drive. Gills Creek representative Jim Colby made the motion to deny the project following a public hearing where a dozen lake area residents spoke against the tower.

Lori Shweller, a representative for Verizon Wireless, said the proposed tower is needed to improve coverage in the Scruggs area. While there are other cellphone towers within 2 to 3 miles of the proposed location, Shweller said this tower is needed to fill a gap in coverage and help to offload increased cellphone traffic from the other towers.

“We wouldn’t want to build a tower if a tower wasn’t needed in the area,” she said.

Greg Brooks, who lives in The Waterfront community near the proposed tower, was one of several speakers who disagreed with the reasoning for the cell tower. “I’ve never had a problem. Ever,” he said about his service. “There is not a problem with service in The Waterfront community.”

Several speakers questioned if another location could be used that was farther away from homes and neighborhoods. While the proposed location of the tower is 800 feet from the nearest home, many of the speakers said it was too close.

Penny Hodges, a local realtor and a resident of The Waterfront, said the tower could reduce area property values by as much as 20 percent. She said it also would be an eyesore in the community. “It doesn’t belong in any residential neighborhood,” she said.

Ron Willard II, vice president of The Willard Companies, which owns The Waterfront, questioned why the tower’s location was chosen in one of the lake’s largest residential communities, as well as near one of its most popular golf courses.

“I just can’t quite understand the reason why choosing the location of a tower site in a highly populated area makes a lot of sense,” Willard said.

Willard said allowing the construction of the tower would be a missed opportunity in future real estate tax revenue for the county. The proposed location of the tower is on 40 acres of undeveloped land on Back Nine Road. The property owners are leasing a 0.2-acre portion of the property for the tower.

“We’re not even considering the potential value of the 40 acres it’s going to be on,” Willard said. “This is a prime piece of property located right in the middle of a residential community that one day will be developed.”

Following the public comment period, Union Hall representative Deborah Crawford and Colby were the only planning commission members to comment before casting their votes. Crawford questioned whether another cellphone tower was necessary with several others in the vicinity.

The tower could be a detriment to adjacent property owners and to the community, Colby said. “There is overwhelming community opposition to the proposed tower; therefore, I move to recommend denial of this request.”

While the planning commission voted 4-1 to deny a recommendation for the tower, the project will be presented to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors for a final vote following a public hearing March 19.

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