‘It will lower property values.’ Residents push back against new cell tower in Lexington

Residents near a proposed 125-foot tall cell tower in the Palomar area say the new tower is too close to neighborhoods and pledge to fight efforts to locate the tower on a church property.

Municipal Communications III, LLC and Dish Network, LLC want to put a monopole tower and associated ground equipment within a 60 foot by 60 foot fenced and landscaped compound at Palomar Baptist Church on the corner of Fort Harrods Drive and Man O’ War.

The Urban County Planning Commission will decide whether to approve the application at a Feb. 23 meeting.

Palomar Baptist Church has had a lease with Municipal Communications for at least nine years but a cell tower was never built on the property.

“This will decrease property values,” said Yanling Newman, a real estate agent, who attended a meeting at Beaumont Public Library on Thursday night.

Newman was one of more than 50 people who attended the neighborhood meeting, hosted by Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Members David Sevigny and Whitney Elliott Baxter. The meeting was designed to give residents more information about how the city decides where cell phone towers are located.

Newman cited a survey conducted by the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy of 1,000 people that showed 94% said cell phone towers in a neighborhood would impact interest in a property and the price a buyer was willing to pay for it. That same survey showed 79% said they would not rent or buy a property within blocks of a cell phone tower, Newman said.

No discussion of health affects allowed

The location of cell phone towers are governed by federal, state and local ordinances, said Autumn Goderwis, a planner with the city’s planning department.

The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, has oversight of the telecommunications industry. In 1996, it said that state and local governments could not consider health affects to deny a cell phone tower, she said.

No testimony about health affects of cell phone towers will be discussed during the Feb. 23 meeting.

Cell towers are seen as a replacement for all broadband in the years ahead.
Cell towers are seen as a replacement for all broadband in the years ahead.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission also has oversight over cellular networks. Up until 2000, approval of cell phone towers was left to the commission. That year, a new regulation allowed local government’s planning commissions to have a say on where cell phone towers are located.

As cell phone use has become ubiquitous, so have towers and the fights over where they are located. According to city records, the last free-standing cell phone tower was approved in 2019 on Athens Boonesboro Road not far from Jacobson Park.

A cell phone tower was also constructed on a church property in the middle of a neighborhood off Old Higbee Mill Road, Goderwis said. That tower is actually taller than the one proposed for Palomar — 195 feet.

Traci Wade, manager of the planning department, said there have also been cell towers approved but never built. There was a cell tower proposed for the back of the Oleika Shrine on Southland Drive, which neighbors had opposed. It was never built, Wade said.

The planning commission also considers other factors when determining approval of a cell phone tower including whether it is on or adjacent to a scenic byway or 1,200 feet from a historic district, Goderwis said.

In addition, “the city cannot put a moratorium on new cell towers,” Wade said of the FCC guidance. The city does not have to sign off on cell towers on top of buildings. Just a short drive from the Beaumont Library at the corner of New Circle and Harrodsburg Road are several large buildings with dozens of cell antennas on the roof.

Wade said the planning commission also has to weigh the public benefit of a cell phone tower. The technology company will have to show there is a need in the Palomar and Beaumont area, based on number of dropped calls in the area, and other considerations.

“Police, fire, 911 use these cell towers every moment of every day,” Wade said.

The planning commission’s decision whether to approve the cell phone tower location is final, she said. It does not go to the council for final approval. If residents want to challenge the commission’s decision, it must go to Fayette Circuit Court, city officials said.

Airport, other considerations

Walt Gaffield, president of the Fayette County Neighborhood Council, asked if the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, had been contacted regarding the tower. Gaffield said he was worried the tower would interfere with communications at nearby Blue Grass Airport, he said.

Others said they were worried that it was too close to farmland and Dunbar High School.

The regulations do not allow cell towers in neighborhood zones. The church is zoned agricultural urban. Some on Thursday questioned if they could petition to change the zoning for the church to a residential zone.

“No. Only the property owner can do that,” said Sevigny, the councilman who represents the Palomar area.

Mike Wolken challenged the FCC ban on discussing health affects, citing multiple studies that showed there could be health problems associated with cell towers.

“I’ve done a lot of research,” Wolken said, encouraging people at the meeting to pick up studies he had copied. “We are still using regulations from 1996,” he said referring to the prohibition on discussing environmental and health concerns set by the FCC nearly 25 years ago.

More than 200 people have already signed a petition opposing the cellular tower, according to neighborhood organizers.

A lawyer for Municipal Communications LLC did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.