UPDATE | Aiken County Planning Commission recommends denying request for new cell phone tower

Published: Jan. 18, 2018 at 10:19 PM EST
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Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018

(News 12 NBC 26 News At 11)

UPDATE | 11:45 p.m.

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A potential cell phone tower brings neighbors in northern Aiken County together, both for and against the 190-foot tall structure.

They were trying to convince the Aiken County Planning Commission to vote against allowing a cell phone tower near Bogeyville Road. Verizon Wireless representatives and neighbors met with the commission Thursday night to discuss where things go after neighbors say they had just a ten-days notice.

It was a topic that had a lot of neighbors talking across the county, but things turned out the way most were hoping for in the end.

70 acres of land and a cell phone tower are enough to bring entire neighborhoods to the Aiken County Planning Commission Thursday night. Some say they are in favor, saying they need that expanded service across the northern part of the county.

"Any advance we could have towards communication is needed," one mother said in front of the commission. "Not just for me, I have a daughter and she's in school. There's always needing it. We always have a problem with communications now, it's just not good."

But most neighbors in attendance told the commission not so fast.

"I don't want anymore health problems because of a cell phone tower," says Wanda Autwell, who's lived along the road since 1998. "I realize it's got to go somewhere, but it doesn't have to go around people. They could put it out in a field somewhere."

Everyone who spoke out about the Verizon cell tower says they're in favor of better coverage, but not a tower hundreds of feet from their homes that could drive down their property value. The representatives say they followed all county regulations and ordinances when it came to choosing the property, like how far the tower can be from the road and surrounding neighborhoods.

Health hazards are another concern for folks along that road, especially those with several medical conditions. Several folks cited potential exposure to radiowaves given off by the structure as a reason to find a different spot for the tower. They say it would not be an issue as hundreds of other acres were available for the tower in nearby areas away from the residences.

The two Verizon Wireless representatives say there's no hard science to back up any concerns about the dangers of living near one of these towers, citing studies by the American Cancer Society.

"Frankly, you get more of the radiowave-type exposure from having one of these [cell phones] in your pocket," says Verizon Wireless representative David Kirk, "than you ever will from a telecommunications tower."

Kirk mentioned Verizon had looked at three different spots for the proposed tower, including the one near Bogeyville Road, but picked it after Verizon cited the other sites were not able to meet the same qualifications. Kirk told the commission Verizon had already spent "tens of thousands of dollars" in determining the site was best since it was within a specific quarter-mile area needed to help increase the capacity of their network and improve their coverage.

In the end, the commission voted 5-2 to recommend denying the application. The decision was met with applause from neighbors like Denice Pryor, who says they would have liked more than just ten days to take in what was happening.

"They needed to discuss this with people before they start putting up a communications tower because it affects so many people," Pryor says. "And the people who live directly under this, I think they should be aware that they need more than ten day's notice that this is happening to them."

The Commission voted in recommending to deny the tower "for good cause shown, such as the ability to utilize a shorter or less intrusive facility elsewhere and still accomplish the primary service objective, the County may require the relocation of a proposed site, including allowing for the fact that relocating the site chosen by the applicant may require more than one site to provide substantially the same service, if the relocation could result in a less intrusive facility or facilities, singly or in combination."

Essentially, Verizon can still come back with another site plan as long as it's less intrusive on surrounding neighborhoods.

Kirk declined to comment following the meeting, while Aiken County Attorney Jim Holly legally advised all Commission members from commenting on the vote.

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018

(News 12 at 6 O’clock / NBC 26 News at 7)

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A 190-foot Verizon cell tower could soon be taking over this property, and surrounding neighbors are concerned.

Denice Pryor lives 750-feet from where the cell tower would go, she said, “The main concern is the radiation that comes from these cell towers, the property level that's going to drop if we decided to go on and sell our homes or anything, we wouldn't be able to."

Homeowners recently received a letter from Aiken County Planning Commission because they lived less than 750-feet from where the cell tower is planned to go.

The letter also told them of a public hearing tonight (Jan. 18, 2018) on the tower.

“I think that we are the only ones that received this letter and it's a week before the hearing, so we have not had any other notice, but this one."

Tina and Corey Garrison live the closest, they'd be 300-feet from the tower.

Corey says he would have never bought a home over here if he knew one day a cell tower would be planted right outside his door.

"We didn't get any notice except for the letter, and we have been researching about property value going down, and as my husband said, it's kind of going to lock us in. Nobody is going to want to buy or come down this way with the tower directly at our front door."

Wanda Autwell is another neighbor who got a letter. She says she's going to be at the meeting tonight with bells on.

And the first thing she's going to say...

"If they think that's alright then they ought to put it next door to where they live,” she stated.

These neighbors are upset with the way this whole thing has been handled. They just want their voices heard.

"We are not against the cell tower, we are not against Verizon, but there's so much land and property out here that could be moved in a different area, not so close to our home, 300-feet," the Garrison’s said.

All three neighbors agree that they won't stop until it is moved. They even voiced taking legal action if things don’t change.

"I’ll sell them my property and move, and they can have it, and I’ll shut my mouth, but until then, I’m going to keep running it," Autwell said.