New cell tower could displace Lake Myra Lights

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2014 

— Soon, residents and businesses won’t have to worry about dropping calls or slow data transfer in downtown Wendell.

A private communications company, SCI Towers, will be constructing a communications tower at 410 E. Fourth St., where the Lake Myra Christmas lights are set up during the holiday season.

Even though downtown businesses should be getting better data transfer times – one of the complaints that prompted the conversation with AT&T and Verizon, Town Manager Teresa Piner said – the town may have to sacrifice the current downtown location for one of the only holiday lights shows in eastern Wake County.

Piner said the town has been discussing the problem of cell reception with AT&T and Verizon for a few years. AT&T adjusted some of their signals, but Verizon was interested in building a tower in that area.

Piner said SCI Towers, a Florida-based company, will handle the construction for Verizon. Verizon is not neccesarily the only carrier that will use the tower, though.

SCI Towers did not return phone calls and emails for comment by the time of writing.

According to notice published in the Eastern Wake News on May 7, SCI Towers is looking to locate the 195-foot tower in a 100-foot by 100-foot area.

Piner said it took a little over a year to settle on a location.

“A lot of people ask why not use one of the water tanks,” she said. “(But) the town of Wendell merged with Raleigh (for water service and the town) doesn’t own the water tanks.”

The property SCI Towers decided on is owned by Jimmy Greene of Wendell and Piner said the town knew Greene was looking to sell the property at some point.

Greene said SCI contacted him to construct the tower and worked out a deal that he would lease 5,200 square feet for the tower.

“They came to me and anytime I can get some income from a piece of property on a long term lease, I’m going to do it,” Greene said. He owns several rental properties in the area.

“We knew that at some point in time that relationship would come to an end,” Piner said.

Not everyone happy

The arrival of the tower doesn’t sit well with everyone. Delbert DeMello addressed town commissioners Monday night and expressed disappointment that the company could erect the tower without being required to hold a public hearing or seek input from neighbors.

“To me, there should have been, like, wanted posters all over town asking people to come to a meeting.... (SCI’s) only stipulation is if a historic resource is going to be affected. It doesn’t mention anything about a resident citizen who has to walk out the door every day and look at it,” DeMello said.

DeMello said the town’s priorities are skewed when they allow a cell tower to operate in town with no public involvement, but require public hearings for an existing business to move from one location to another.

“I’ve got to look at it like you don’t care about me. Well, I don’t care about your cell phone service,” DeMello said.

DeMello wasn’t the only person who said they didn’t like the location. But several commissioners who sympathized with DeMello said they were trying to meet a need that had been expressed previously.

“I only live a couple blocks from there too. I don’t particularly want to come out and see that over my trees, but when you have business owners coming and telling you they need more cell service and more ability to move data, this is what we have to do,” Commissioner John Boyette said.

Commissioner Ginna Gray expressed a similar concern. “It’s going to be in my back yard. I wish there was a better solution. We don’t own that piece of land. We can’t control how that owner chooses to use it. It’s conducive to a small number of opportuntiies. This is one that was brought to him. I understand. I do. I understand,” Gray said.

The rules that allow SCI to build a tower without public scrutiny were adopted in late 2012 after the town found itself on an FCC blacklist when telecommunications companies listed Wendell as one of a number of towns with overly burdensome ordinances.

Lights leaving

Greene said there probably wouldn’t be enough room for the lights show and after the tower is constructed, he’s not sure what he’ll do with any leftover space on his property.

“Once (the tower) is fenced in, I don’t know what I’ll do with the rest of it but I don’t think I’ll have the lights back,” he said.

Wendell commissioners have discussed alternative sites for the lights, but haven’t settled on an alternate location. Piner said there’s still a possibility that the lights can stay for one more year.

If construction isn’t set to start until after the holidays, Piner said the lights may stay where they are. If not, there will need to be an alternative.

“Most likely the site ... would not be large enough for Lake Myra lights (and the tower),” she said. “It depends on when the construction is planned. It’s a possibity Lake Myra lights might still be located there this year.”

After this year, Piner said the town isn’t sure where the lights will go, but ideally, they’d stay in downtown Wendell.

“When (the lights) came to downtown it was with the hopes that it would help retail establishments and help our downtown business core,” she said. “The best place would be as close to our downtown core as possible. That’s the priority.”

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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