Originally created 05/24/00

Proposed site for cell tower irks residents



AIKEN - The proposed site for a giant telecommunications tower near Aiken's historic horse district has many residents stamping their hooves.

BellSouth Personal Communications Inc. wants to build a 176-foot cell phone tower near Colony Apartments and the Carolina Bay natural reserve off Whiskey Road. The telecommunications company says the tower would improve reception in an area where customers complain it is poor.

But activists trying to preserve historic Aiken say the tower encroaches on an area known as a buffer zone between the equestrian district and the commercialized southern end of town.

"We are convinced . . . that the tower would be a terrible eyesore, visible from many sensitive spots within the horse district, including the Steeplechase track, several polo fields and numerous open areas in Old Aiken," said Wilkins Byrd, president of the Historic Aiken Foundation who owns a home near the proposed site.

The foundation's board voted unanimously to oppose that location for the tower.

BellSouth is requesting the city council to rezone a .39-acre tract on the south side of Colony Parkway from Limited Professional to Office/Institutional so it can construct the tower. The planning commission already voted 4-2 in favor of rezoning the property owned by Zipper Robbins and Taylor Garnett.

The city council voted 6-1 Monday to approve tentatively the company's request. A public hearing is set for June 12.

If the council approves the request, BellSouth still will have to get permission from the board of zoning appeals to build the tower.

Joanie Schisler, who held up a sign that read "Bad Site" at Monday's meeting, said she plans to be very vocal at the public hearing. Ms. Schisler owns a stable in the horse district and Amanda's restaurant across the street from the proposed tower site on Whiskey Road.

"I just don't think BellSouth has done its homework," she said. "The tower needs to be in an industrialized area, not a residential one."

Angie Beach, a real estate manager for Crown Castle International, the company hired by BellSouth to build the tower, contends that a lot of time and money was spent researching the best location for the tower near Whiskey and Pine Log roads.

"We've worked for six months trying to find possible sites," she said.

BellSouth computers determined that the heart of its search ring was Palmetto Golf Club, where reception was needed most, but that location was obviously not an option, Ms. Beach said.

Ms. Beach said the company is looking into two more possible city-owned sites that were suggested by Mayor Fred Cavanaugh on Monday - the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center and the Pine Log Road city well.

The company first tried to locate the antenna on other towers near the target area, but there was no room available, Ms. Beach said. The city's water tower, which supports many antennas, wasn't tall enough, she said.

BellSouth attorney Gary Pennington said the company needs to locate the tower in that area because capacity is overloaded along Whiskey Road. The company receives at least five complaints per day from wireless customers who get busy signals or complain of "dead" spots, he said.

"People want these phones to work," Mr. Pennington said. "We're becoming a wireless society."

Residents protesting the tower's location say they understand the popularity of cell phones, and many of them use wireless services, but they think there is a more suitable location.

More than 150 homeowners along Berrie and Boardman roads and Hickory and Sherry drives signed a petition protesting the location.

"The area devoted to equestrian activities has a style and personality that keeps us from being just another southern town," said Nancy Wilds, who signed the petition. "Anything that encroaches on the ambience of that area does permanent damage to the city."

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.