Commissioners OK tower in Mount Ulla

  • Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, January 29, 2012 12:21 a.m.

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY After nearly a decade of applications, hearings, appeals and protests, Rowan County commissioners decided Monday to allow a 1,200-foot broadcast tower to be built in Mount Ulla.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners cast its split vote Wednesday. It was the third day of a hearing on a conditional use permit application by Davidson County Broadcasting.
Davidson Broadcasting President Greely Gig Hilton plans to build a radio tower on property owned by Richard L. Parker and his wife, Dorcas, in Mount Ulla.
This is a way to keep our land, so it means a lot to my family, Brittany Chester, the Parkers daughter, said after the vote Wednesday.
Hilton said construction could start in the next six months.
A citizens group opposing the request could choose to appeal the countys decision but did not say whether it will do so.
Davidson County Broadcasting owns and operates WWLV, formerly WTHX. The contemporary Christian station is known as KLOVE on 94.1 FM.
After 16 hours of testimony on Monday and Tuesday during whats known as a quasi-judicial hearing, commissioners heard closing arguments Wednesday and discussed the issue. They then voted 3-2 to approve the permit with several conditions.
While I know that the erection of this tower at the proposed location would change some of the views and create the possibility of an accident involving an airplane, said Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, I do not believe the overall long-term effects will be detrimental to the Mount Ulla community and the citizens of Rowan County.
Commissioner Jim Sides made the motion to approve the permit and Carl Ford seconded it. They both said the issue comes down to private property rights.
To grant the conditional use permit, the board first had to approve six general criteria two of which were not contested and three criteria specific to broadcast towers.
The majority of commissioners agreed that pilots would be well aware of the tower and could safely navigate around it, basing that conclusion on some of the expert testimony given. But commissioners Jon Barber and Chad Mitchell voted against granting the permit, saying the tower would create a hazard for pilots who use nearby Miller Airpark.
Mitchell said he was convinced by the testimony of Capt. John Cox, pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems in St. Petersburg, Fla., who gave his expert opinion of the tallest safe tower height considering pilots taking off and landing at the private airport.
He said that at the location where the proposed tower was to be sited, it should only be around 750 feet tall, Mitchell said.
Barber voted that the tower would not meet all six of the countys standards that were contested. He said the tower would detract from the character of the area and would create significant visual impacts for adjoining properties and passersby.
I am in a unique position on this board as being the only member who was born, raised and currently lives in the heart of Mount Ulla, Barber said.
But he said he put aside where he lives and came to a decision objectively, as each commissioner was required to do, based on the testimony and evidence presented.
The citizens group that opposed the tower, represented by attorney Richard Reamer, is made up of the Miller Airpark Association, the Mount Ulla Historic Preservation Society and James and Marian Rollans.
There is so much beautiful farmland in that area, said Mount Ulla resident Merry Lauder. This is the wrong thing to do for west Rowan.
Commissioners still must approve an official order, which attorney Anthony Fox will present to the board at an upcoming meeting.
Planning staff recommended three conditions for the permit, including one that documentation be provided within 30 days showing the facility is within FCC guidelines for radio frequency exposure.
The board added two more conditions: that high-intensity strobe lights be placed on the tower and each additional antenna location on the tower no more than four total come before the board for approval.
In 2005, after 14 hours of testimony over two days, county commissioners decided a 1,350-foot tower on the Parkers property would present a safety hazard to Miller Airpark.
The only sitting commissioners who were on the board at the time were Mitchell, who voted to deny the permit, and Sides, who cast the lone vote in favor of allowing it.
Hilton appealed the countys decision, but a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the denial in September 2007, and so did the N.C. Supreme Court.
Davidson County Broadcasting, represented by attorney Stephen Holton, submitted the application approved Wednesday in May 2010. Among other changes, it reduced the tower height by 150 feet and increased the fall zone.
If I even thought this type of objection would happen, I probably would have never started on this course, Hilton said. But this board made the right decision. ... Im sure the almost 1 million extra people well be able to reach will be happy also.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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