published Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Flagpole, fake tree proposed as cell towers on Lookout Mountain

Call it the battle between the giant flagpole and the towering fake pine tree.

Those were the two competing proposals presented Thursday night to disguise a cellphone tower proposed on Lookout Mountain, Tenn.

About 100 people came to Lookout Mountain Elementary School to hear a presentation by town officials and representatives from two cell tower companies, Wireless Properties and AT&T, that are vying to get approval to build a tower on town land.

Officials will have to pick one or the other, because federal and state law make it hard for municipalities to ban cell towers, said attorney Jim Murphy, who's been hired by the town to help it navigate the process.

"The federal and state statutes make it difficult -- if not impossible -- to totally exclude wireless facilities," Murphy said.

Chattanooga-based Wireless Properties went first, represented by Henry Glascock, a real estate appraiser who lives on Lookout Mountain.

"I do not like cell towers," Glascock said. "Unfortunately, we have to have them."

The 120-foot-tall cell tower disguised as a flagpole that Wireless Properties wants to build in front of the town hall to replace an existing flagpole would be tall enough to handle several carriers' antennas, Glascock said. That makes it less likely other cellphone towers would be needed to improve coverage on Lookout Mountain.

The American flag could be lit at night or taken down every day. Wireless Properties officials don't believe a strobe light atop the pole would be required to warn aircraft.

AT&T officials Mary Stewart Lewis and David Walker said the flagpole wouldn't accommodate AT&T's most up-to-date equipment.

"It is so limiting to our engineers that they're unusable," Walker said.

AT&T proposes to put a 120-foot-tall tower shaped like a pine on a hill behind the town hall.

Lookout Mountain resident Mark Caldwell said trees near the proposed AT&T tower are only 60 feet high, so the tower wouldn't be hidden by the backdrop of the forest.

"This is not a backdrop, this is a skyline," said Caldwell, who asked the companies to provide mock-ups of their designs using real photos of the sites. Campbell also said he solved his cellphone problems by installing a "microcell" antenna connected to high-speed Internet.

"It's flawless," Caldwell said.

Meanwhile, a Realtor who lives in Lookout Mountain said the lack of cellphone service there puts the mountain at a disadvantage to the comparable real estate markets of Signal Mountain and North Chattanooga.

"It is used against us all the time," he said.

Thursday's meeting was only informational. The town commission has yet to make a decision.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.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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