published Friday, April 18th, 2014

Opposition brews over cellphone towers proposed on Lookout Mountain, Watoosa Ridge

  • photo
    Chris Gilligan walks along a privately maintained road near the site proposed for a new Verizon Wireless communications tower near Gilligan's family's property in Rock Spring, Ga., on Thursday.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

Will a patriotic disguise make a proposed cellphone tower palatable for residents of Lookout Mountain, Tenn.?

"It's a flagpole and the antennas are hidden inside," Town Consultant Dwight Montague said. "It'd be a real tall flagpole with a big American flag on top."

That's the design that Wireless Properties, a Chattanooga-based company that owns about 270 cellphone towers, is expected to unveil at a special May 1 town commission meeting at 6 p.m. at Lookout Mountain Elementary School. It's vying with AT&T, which leans toward installing a cellphone tower shaped like a tree near the town hall.

A new tower would improve cellphone service on Lookout Mountain, Montague said, and the town government stands to earn around $1,500 a month, initially, if it allows a company to build a tower on town-owned property. That income would increase as additional companies rented space on the flagpole or tree-shaped tower.

"They call cell towers vertical real estate," Montague said. "You're renting space on a pole."

Montague hasn't yet received final designs for the cellphone towers, but previous designs near a town water tank would have been 95 and 120 feet tall.

Neither design does it for Carrington Montague, who lives near the site. He calls cellphone towers "those hideous spikes on the horizon" and said they "destroy real estate values." Montague, a Civil War buff, worries that the tower proposed near the town hall will intrude on the "viewshed" of the National Park Service's Point Park and Lookout Mountain Battlefield.

Montague said his main complaint is that "this is 1980s technology. The technology has moved on."

He predicts tiny antennas will replace cellphone towers and said Alcatel-Lucent, a French company, already has deployed the technology in such places as Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Watoosa Ridge tower

Meanwhile, a new 180-foot-tall cellphone tower proposed for a rural, wooded property on Watoosa Ridge, also known as Napier Ridge, at the border of Catoosa and Walker counties has spurred a petition drive by its neighbors.

Verizon wants to put the tower on a 7.69-acre parcel on Watoosa Trail owned by Rodney Richardson.

But neighbor Chris Gilligan said it would be a visual blight that would decrease home and real estate values. He has created a website and online petition to oppose the tower.

County officials will consider the proposed tower at a zoning hearing at 6 p.m. on Tuesday and at a planning commission hearing at 6 p.m. on May 20, both of which will be at the county Administration Building in Ringgold.

"What's wrong with this tower is this is a residential area," Gilligan said. "The tower site is less than 1,000 feet from the nearest residence ... and that's a violation of county code."

Richardson said, "There are cell towers everywhere. Less than one mile as the crow flies, there is a huge cell tower in Walker County."

People at the foot of Watoosa Ridge don't have good cellphone reception, he said, and a new tower would help.

Richardson, 51, said he could use the money he'd get from leasing his land for the cellphone tower. It'd be equal, he said, to about a week's pay.

"I'm a maintenance man; I don't make much money," said Richardson. "The wealthy people that are protesting this, it's nothing to them."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@times freepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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