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Decision on tower could come today

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó County commissioners delayed until today their decision about whether to allow a 1,200-foot broadcast tower in Mount Ulla.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. today to hear closing arguments, hold its discussion and vote on the matter. It will be the third day of proceedings after 16 hours of testimony on Monday and Tuesday.
Greely ěGigî Hilton, president of Davidson County Broadcasting, has applied for a conditional-use permit to build a 1,200-foot broadcast tower on property owned by Richard L. Parker and his wife, Dorcas.
Parker, who owns about 159 acres of property on Parker Loop Road off N.C. 801, testified that he wants to lease the land to Davidson County Broadcasting to keep his fourth-generation farm going.
Parkerís daughter, Brittany Chester, said during the public testimony part of the hearing that the tower actually would help preserve Rowan County farmland.
ěIf we donít get this financial aid, then we lose the farm,î Chester said. ěHeís not going to be able to sell it as farmland and will have to sell it as residential land.î
Opposing the request is a citizensí group made up of the Miller Airpark Association, the Mount Ulla Historic Preservation Society and James Rollans and his wife, Marian Parker Rollans.
ěI live across from the Parkers; these folks are my kinfolks,î Marian Rollans said. ěI would do nothing to hurt them. I donít want them to hurt themselves by allowing the tower to be put on their farm. … It will affect his children from now on.î
She said if everyone there had pooled their funds 10 years ago, they could have given enough money to ěRicky Parkerî for him to start over again, and she would have been willing to do that.
But a tall tower does not belong on his land, she said.
After waiting two days, 10 members of the public testified Monday night on both sides ó four supporting the permit and six opposing ó in addition to the called witnesses.
For a conditional-use permit to be approved in Rowan County, the proposed use must not create significant visual impacts for adjoining properties or passersby, detract significantly from the character of the area or result in hazardous safety conditions.
In 2005, after 14 hours of testimony over two days, county commission-ers decided a 1,350-foot tower on the Parkersí property would present a safety hazard to a nearby private airstrip, Miller Airpark.
Hilton appealed the countyís 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.
Several aviation experts ó pilots, instructors and specialists ó testified during both days of the hearing.
Some said the tower would not be a significant safety hazard to Miller Airpark if pilots knew where it was and followed well-known procedures. Others said it would be too tall and too close to the airport.
Jack Edwards, a pilot and resident of Miller Airpark in Mount Ulla, said the tower would be difficult to see in certain weather conditions, which is a concern especially for lost or disoriented pilots.
Parker said he likes the airport and understands the pilotsí concerns.
ěIf I was a pilot, I wouldnít want a tower there either,î Parker said. ěBut I know you guys are proficient enough to fly in and out even if the towerís there.î
Ken Patterson, former obstruction evaluation specialist with the FAA and aviation consulting with Airspace Consulting Inc. in Brooks, Ga., said Monday he performs the same safety analysis as the FAA does but for private airports.
The FAA has issued a determination of no hazard for the tower.
From his own study of the proposed tower, Patterson reached the opinion that the determination would have been issued even if Miller Airpark was a public airport. He said he confirmed his conclusion with a current FAA specialist over the phone.
Bruce Joseph, a pilot and flight instructor, said Tuesday the FAA cannot consider private airports in its determination. He said testimony about a phone call doesnít prove that it considered Miller Airpark.
ěMr. Parker has a financial interest in putting the tower on his property, and I respect that,î Joseph said. ěMy question to Mr. Parker is when an errant pilot hits that tower, do you want that blood on your hands for putting up a tower for your own financial gain?î
Commissioner Carl Ford took issue with that question, saying commissioners hear it when they have traffic safety concerns about a permit.
ěThat really offends me; that burns me up,î Ford said. ěWeíre all going to die sometime. Hopefully, prayerfully, nobody will hit the tower if itís approved. … Anytime anybody loses a life, it bothers me.î
Joseph replied that he chose his words ěfor impactî and didnít mean to offend anyone.
The county requires that a new broadcast tower should limit visual impacts to historical properties and the North Carolina Scenic Byway, which is located near the Parkersí property.
The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office has determined that the tower would not adversely affect historic properties in the area.
But David Foard Hood, a former employee of the State Historic Preservation Office, said it only took into account the architectural significance of most of the properties, not the agricultural significance for which some of them also qualify.
Rose LaCasse, a Mount Ulla resident, said she catalogued information about historic properties in the community and submitted it in 2004 to the State Historic Preservation Office for consideration for the national historic register.
She said the proposed tower will be very visible from those properties, not only because of its height but because FAA regulations require that it must be painted red and white and be properly lit.
LaCasse also said terrain maps show the tower will be clearly visible from all of the scenic byway in Rowan County, which often overlooks open, rolling farmland.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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