Fountain City neighbors unite to fight cell tower plan

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A group of neighbors have united in their effort to fight a cell phone tower proposed in Fountain City. A vote on the tower is scheduled before the Metropolitan Planning Commission in a few weeks.

The tower’s proposed location has brought both young and more mature families together like no other issue. The company that plans to put up the tower says it’s needed for improved cell phone service, but the possibility of a new tower isn’t sitting well with residents in Fountain City who live in an area called “Top of the Ridge,” where they enjoy what they call the “peace and beauty” of living on the ridge.

They say all that will change if this proposed tower goes up.

Communication towers stand like sentinels, erect and tall. You can’t miss them on the ridges that dot the topography of East Tennessee. The towers have a become part of the landscape. We demand them because we want better wireless service.

Related story: South Knoxville residents glad cell tower not going up in their neighborhood

A group of residents is opposed to a tower proposed for the Martha Berry/Ridgecrest neighborhood. Don Lee will have a direct view of the structure.

“I’ll be able to look out my back door and drive out of my garage and see this,” said Lee. “It’s going to go about 150 feet from my property line.”

Lee says if approved, the tower will go up in his next door neighbor’s back yard.

“It’s not clear where the location is going to be. That’s an issue with the tower company. We do not want a tower. We don’t care where it is going to be,” said Lee.

“If the cell tower goes where we think it is going to go, it will be about 200 feet from our house. So we are going to have a good view,” said Mary Lou Longmire.

“The neighborhood is situated on the ridge, beautiful views of the surrounding area with lots of natural vegetation. That’s a very unnatural eyesore,” said James Norris.

Aesthetics and potential lower property values are two reasons why these neighbors have united in their opposition to the tower. Another is environmental. The proposed site in Fountain City will be built on elevation.

“There is a 77 foot rise to the access road up to the base of the tower. When all that vegetation is removed and all the trees are gone, that storm water is going to come down that access road onto Ridgecrest and into our neighbors’ yards here,” said Phyllis Severance.

Branch Towers wrote to WATE 6 On Your Side: “The proposed site and structure will have no environmental impact within federal guidelines. The nearly six acres of heavily wooded land has an appropriate slope or grade for a cellular tower. The tall, old-growth trees will greatly help to buffer the view of the tower. The thickness of the woods will provide up to 200 feet in buffering in some areas and after months of researching, T-Mobile chose this site because its location will help the company best meet its coverage needs.”

Neighbors have pored over information provided by the tower builders. A few months ago, Branch conducted a balloon test for their client to show the tower’s height.

“When they floated the balloon, they were about 70 feet south of where they should be. So in terms of elevation, they were showing that the tower was going to be much shorter than it actually will be,” said Carrera Romanini.

The 14-member Metropolitan Planning Commission will vote to either approve or disapprove the proposed tower at its August meeting. So far these united neighbors have called each commissioner, sent them a 50 page packet of information, and have nearly 200 names on a petition drive opposed to the tower.

“My husband is disabled. His great joy is sitting in our sun room and looking out the window at the flora and fauna that we have – the birds, the rabbits, deer, wild turkey. Now if the cell tower goes, in he will be looking at a cell tower,” said Paula Minhinnett.

Branch Communications will conduct a town hall meeting on July 27 for people in the neighborhood who would be affected by the towers at the Lions Club in Fountain City. Branch says it will review other potential sites at the meeting.

Branch says it first looked at options to co-locate on existing towers in the area, but says there were no existing structures that would provide T-Mobile the coverage they needed. That’s why they want the site in Martha Berry and Ridgecrest.

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