MATTHEWS – A proposed stealth tower on the campus of Elizabeth Lane Elementary has some residents and commissioners concerned.
The petition, which proposes a 120-foot, mono-pine tower with a small lightning rod on the campus, was hesitantly accepted by council at the Sept. 9 Board of Commissioners meeting after commisisoners were in clear disagreement over a zoning text change involving stealth towers that was approved by a 4-3 vote earlier that night.
The recent change now allows for the proposal of stealth towers of up to 120 feet with approval from board members. The ordinance previously allowed for stealth towers up to 80 feet without council approval.
Now the change allows council to give input on “how tall the stealth application would be, what it would look like and where it would be placed on the property,” Kathi Ingrish, Matthews planning director, said.
Berkley Group LLC submitted both the text change application and the Elizabeth Lane Elementary tower petition, since the group’s client, AT&T, specifically requested a tower at a higher height limit than the town permitted, Ingrish said.
“That’s why the applicant brought in the text amendment to begin with,” Ingrish added.
A public hearing for the Elizabeth Lane tower petition will be held Nov. 11, but a decision on the tower will likely fall in the hands of a new council in December following the Nov. 5 election.
A taller tower would help create stronger cell and wireless signals for an ever-growing, technology-infused society. With the added strain of data usage, current towers just can’t handle the number of wireless devices used.
Currently, the number of wireless telephone numbers exceeds the number of landline phone numbers in the area, according to Berkley Group, creating a technology gap in service though customers expect a strong signal everywhere.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the owner of the Elizabeth Lane Elementary property. Currently, an application to put a tower at the school has not yet been submitted to district officials, said Dennis LaCaria, CMS director of planning and real estate, since the proposal would first have to meet land-use regulations of the town. The district currently has cell towers at Providence High School and Quail Hollow Middle School, where LaCaria said there have been no issues in safety or functionality. A cell tower also was recently added to the campus of Jay M. Robinson Middle School and another approved for Myers Park High School, he said.
“What we did a couple of years ago was solicited cell tower providers and people like AT&T to see if they thought there was any opportunity to use any of our real estate to generate more revenue for our capital fund,” LaCaria said. Money generated from renting out space for cell towers helps support maintenance and upkeep of the district’s schools and if not located on the school’s campus, could be less safe on a neighboring property.
“This is the world we are in,” LaCaria said, “finding ways to make additional revenue.”
LaCaria said, if the Matthews board approves the petition, Berkley Group would then submit a petition to CMS. District officials would work with town leaders and residents to fine-tune the details before the project would go to the board of education for a vote.
“Should Berkley approach us, which I would assume they would, we would notify the families at the school, hold a public hearing, solicit feedback and then ultimately take it to the board of education,” LaCaria said.
LaCaria added district leaders have heard some complaints that the mono-pine model, like the tower visible from Interstate 485 near the Providence Road exit, is not aesthetically pleasing. CMS would work with developers and town officials to find other options and models.
In addition to more revenue, LaCaria said district officials also are interested in additional towers as schools become more and more infused with technology.
“With the coming of age with the technology of schools, we have to look at how these towers will benefit education,” citing state testing moving to an online format. “Having the additional capacity will definitely be a benefit.”