Maligned cell tower proposal withdrawn

MATTHEWS – Parents and community members can rest easy at least another night knowing plans for a proposed cell tower on the campus of Elizabeth Lane Elementary School were canned Monday, Jan. 13, when the Matthews Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to allow Berkley Group LLC to withdraw their controversial petition.

But that doesn’t mean the matter is settled, or that the cell tower is gone for good.

Berkley Group filed a petition to the board last summer proposing a 120-foot mono-pine tower with a small lightning rod on the campus of Elizabeth Lane Elementary. The group’s client, AT&T,
specifically requested the tower to help create stronger cell and wireless signals for an ever growing, technology-infused community, and with the added strain of data usage, current towers just can’t keep up with demand, they said.

But after months of heated debate, and emotions running high from parents and community members concerned the tower would put the safety and health of children at Elizabeth Lane at risk, as well as turning school campuses into commercial footholds, Berkley Group made the decision to pull the petition to rethink their strategy.

For now, no plans for a tower at or around Elizabeth Lane Elementary are in place, but Berkley Group can re-file a petition at any point and completely start the conversation over from scratch.

In a letter to Kathi Ingrish, Matthews planning director, stating the wish to withdraw the petition, Bonnie Newell with Berkley Group said the group anticipates they will “reapply in the second quarter of 2014.” Berkley Group did not respond to requests for interviews by Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly.

Parents and community members urged board members Monday night to take a stand and represent the constituents if Berkley Group does reapply for a tower on the Elizabeth Lane Elementary site or any other Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools site, as Berkley works directly with CMS for the towers. In return, CMS generates more revenue for their capital fund, Dennis LaCaria, CMS director of planning and real estate, previously said in interview with Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly. Money generated from renting out space for cell towers helps support maintenance and upkeep of the district’s schools.

“This is the world we are in,” LaCaria previously said, “finding ways to make additional revenue.”

But some Elizabeth Lane parents disagree with the approach.

“Shame on the Berkley Group for ever proposing this 120-foot cell tower on this campus. Shame on CMS for standing behind this company” and getting monetary rewards at the expense of school children, one Elizabeth Lane parent said to commissioners at the Jan. 13 meeting. “Shame on (CMS) for taking a deaf ear on parents.”

“A business of any kind does not belong on school property,” chimed another parent. “Industrial sites don’t belong where there are schools. Berkley Group has no interest in our community. CMS has no interest in our community. They just want money in their pockets.”

Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said he hopes Matthews constituents will have more trust in commissioners in the future to make decisions that are in the best interest of the town, though the mayor urged everyone on the board to not speak publically about where they stand on the tower issue in case it comes before the group again.



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