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County council tables cell tower amendment

Posted: September 26, 2013 5:49 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Council Chairman Gene Wise decided to table a proposed amendment to an ordinance governing, among other things, the “fall zone” for, or distance between, cell towers. A public hearing on the matter drew nine speakers as council prepared to take up third and final reading of the amendment. Had the amendment been passed, it would have changed the distance between cell towers from 5,000 feet to 1,500 feet.

Michael Williams, who owns property on Lonesome Pine Trail, voiced his concerns during the public hearing regarding the possible effects of an increased number of towers that could result from decreasing the fall zone.

“I started thinking about the human environment and the most important thing I’ve thought about is the height of the tower which is a 260-foot steel structure … that’s going to be sticking up into the sky with red flashing lights on it,” Williams said. “When I started thinking about safety, I started thinking about tornadoes.”

Williams, a retired employee of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division, said he remembered tornadoes that came through Liberty Hill in 1984.

“Tornadoes came through probably the most unpopulated part of the county, at that time. One thing I noticed was the effect the tornado had on the steel structures, the major transmission lines. It actually uprooted the ground, ripped these towers apart, sent shards of metal all through the woods, stuck into trees, sheered bolts off, wrapped cables around trees. I started thinking that I don’t want a tower in my front yard where a tornado can affect it like that. Also, 1989, I was sent to Charleston to work the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo. I saw the effect of what high winds can do to a steel structure. I thought about my neighbors here today. They have children. They have livestock. They have pets … and I don’t think we want a steel structure stuck into our neighborhood,” Williams said.

Williams also said more towers would “devalue his property.”

“I don’t want to see that,” he said. “It’s not fair to me and to my neighbors for whoever owns the land where the tower is going, for them to be receiving income for that tower while our property is being devalued. That is not right.”

Williams’ concerns were echoed by several other community members who spoke during the hearing, the majority of them also from the Lonesome Pine Trail area.

Resident Richard Cox added that along with being worried over the devaluation of his property, he was bothered by the fact that, if the amendment passed, he could “throw a ball” within the distance marked for a new tower.

“This tower is going to affect me by me not being able to put my dream home there because I’ll be in a fall zone. I’ll have to sign a paper saying I won’t be able to build a structure close to it,” Cox said, adding his fear that cell towers could have negative “health effects” on his children and grandchildren.

AT&T representative Jonathan Yates, however, spoke to what he said is a need for more cell towers in Kershaw County.

“We’re trying to provide wireless infrastructure,” Yates said. “We’re no different than power, water, telco or sewer. It’s a 21st century form of infrastructure.”

He said that he, on behalf of AT&T, was in support of the amendment, and that AT&T’s hope is to provide the same coverage in Kershaw County that citizens in larger cities, such as Charleston, Columbia and Greenville have.

“For that, we need the ability to put in towers. We need to do it in the best possible way and we will work on that,” Cox said, reiterating that it is not his intention to harm anyone. “Statistics show that, in fact, we do not devalue property values with towers. We don’t change a way of life for folks. We bring a service, a necessary service.”

Cox also said that 400,000 911 calls a day in the United States are placed by cell phones and that cell phones allow responders to pinpoint exactly where an individual making an emergency call is located.

Following the public hearing, Chairman Gene Wise said Councilman Jimmy Jones had brought forward another version of the amendment.

Jones said he perceived the work done by AT&T and Sandhill Telephone Cooperative to be “transparent and courteous.”

“I don’t believe you’ve done anything behind closed doors. I appreciate your hard work on this. We absolutely have a need. It’s very important we balance that with the rights of the adjoining property owners,” Jones said.

Jones’ version of the amendment would have the fall zone decreased to 2,000 feet from residential uses. He also said he was disappointed to learn that Sandhill and AT&T were opposed to his amendment.

“I want to allow neighbors to have a say in what is to be placed next to them,” Jones said. “Before we allow someone to impose a tower’s permanent night-time flashing lights in their neighborhood, we need to allow the voices of those affected to be heard. I think to do anything less would be un-American. I really don’t think AT&T and Sandhill disagree with me. I think this is about coming to a balance to get this worked out.

“The way this (amendment) is written now, I can’t support it. I will not support it. I have an amendment that says no communication tower or antenna shall be placed within 2,000 ft. of a residential use, a residence, without obtaining a special exception from the zoning board of appeals.”

Jones asked the rest of council how they would feel “if a tower was going right up next to your home. Still, we need the towers … we’ve got to balance this out, but we’ve got to respect your rights first.”

Wise asked for any other contributions from council; County Attorney Ken DuBose stated that he had a copy of Jones’ amendment “if anyone wants to see it.”

Wise said he didn’t want to see it.

“Don’t pass it out. This chair will not accept an amendment at the third reading because it’s not transparent to the citizens to see it and talk about it,” Wise said. “The chair recommends tabling this, sending it back to planning and zoning, have all these people go back there and wait until we get a recommendation from our planning and zoning director. I want to table this and send it back to committee.”

Jones said he supported the chair’s recommendation, but didn’t “like his language.”

“First off, it is transparent, the bottom line is what he’s saying is that he wants all fingers on it. I think that’s a great idea to send it back to planning and zoning,” Jones said.

At that point, Wise declared the amendment tabled.

In other business, council discussed a resolution supporting a greenways plan commissioned by Eat Smart Move More Kershaw County. Jones said he asked for it to be added back to the agenda, though he did not support “putting any money into it.”

“But it’s a good thing to show the folks at the city that we support their efforts,” Jones said.

Wise said he supported the greenways plan as it helped contribute to “sound bodies” and would benefit economic development.

The resolution passed with only one “no” vote from Councilman C.R. Miles who said he felt council should support “infrastructure before we support recreation.”

Also, County Administrator Vic Carpenter presented council with an intergovernmental agreement between the city of Camden and Kershaw County to continue funding for a joint tourism department.

“A year ago, the city and county came up with a plan for creating a joint tourism department with the county taking the lead and the city putting funds forth and the county finishing the funding,” Carpenter said. “After a year plus, the city has come to the county and asked that we transfer the lead of the organization to them. Essentially, it’s the same agreement we agreed to a year ago, we just reversed the county and the city’s roles. The county will provide a level of support comparable to the support the city provides us, which is approximately $30,000. The county will provide advice, input and guidance to the city, but the current director will be a city employee.”

Carpenter said he was comfortable recommending that council embrace this agreement and approve it.

Wise asked if tourism throughout the county would be supported and Carpenter assured it would.

Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. asked if accepting this agreement meant the current advisory board would be disbanded. Carpenter recommending council do so, but that it would be the city’s call, not the county’s. He also said if a new board were created, the county would be represented.

Jones asked if the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce’s welcome center would be affected; Carpenter said it would not.

“The motorsports park, the equine park, as well as … the town of Elgin, plus Lugoff -- the board would be responsible for working with those organizations and promoting and supporting them,” Carpenter said.

Council voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

In council briefing, Wise commented on KershawHealth Board of Trustees.

“This chair asked the hospital team for the strategic plan sometime back in June. This chair has not seen that yet. So, I have some concerns regarding the direction our hospital is going into,” Wise said. “We have an opportunity for a new CEO and I hope that individual is open to the possibility of a new model, but I don’t hear anyone talking about a new model. I hear a lot about old models. Their business plan was altered. They bought non-performing assets that are not being utilized and they diverted that from buying ambulances.

“To have non-performing assets in the world of business, you don’t do that. I want to make sure that from my stand point, who’s responsible for that is county council. We appoint the board members, we cannot be unaccountable for that. We need to be held accountable for that. If we appoint the board members who are unwilling, unable or incapable of providing us the information on a timely basis so we can deliberately interact and make decisions concerning keeping that hospital open, it’s our fault. The citizens own that hospital. We need full transparency. We need a strong working relationship with the board. We have the right to remove board members. If board members are not functioning consistent with the people who own that hospital, we have to take action.

“I would certainly like to see a strategic plan concerning the hospital. The old model does not work. We are burning cash at a rapid rate and I have deep concerns about the viability of the hospital unless some actions are taken soon.”

In other business, council:

• unanimously passed third and final reading of an ordinance to establish the county’s millage;

• unanimously passed second reading of an ordinance to amend the county’s code of zoning as applied to bed and breakfast inns; and

• unanimously approved a detention center control panel bid.

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