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Cell phone towers debated

October 07, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A group of Jefferson County residents told the county Planning Commission Tuesday night they did not want a lot of telecommunication towers dotting the landscape.

The commission heard comments from the public Tuesday night as it considers possible changes to the county zoning ordinance on the towers, said Scott Doyle, president of the Jefferson County Planning Commission.

The process is still in the early stages and there will be future public meetings on the issue.

About 35 people attended Tuesday night's meeting, with an apparent equal number of Jefferson County residents and those involved in the telecommunications industry.

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"Jefferson County is a beautiful, scenic place to live and it is still a rural county," said Pam Underhill, of Shannondale.

Underhill said she did not like the offer from telecommunications representatives to help the county draft an ordinance.

"We don't want the fox guarding the hen house," she said.

She and about five others said they never intend to use cellular phones. She said she believes they can be useful, but the industry has grown and the towers have sprung up across the country.

"Just imagine our landscape, our whole country looking like a pin cushion," Underhill said.

Markham L. Gartley, project manager with United States Cellular, said the telecommunications antennas can be put on farm silos, water towers or high buildings so towers do not have to be built throughout the area. The towers are also sometimes built into existing power line poles or even church steeples, he said.

In some places, towers are necessary to assure the cellular phones and other communication devices can send their signal to the towers.

Gartley thinks he would need six antennas, either on towers or other structures, to cover the county.

"A tower is simply a way to hold up an antenna," Gartley said.

Gartley said about 50 million people in the United States currently have wireless phones and 100 million are expected to have them by 2000.

Wade Banks, of Shepherdstown, said he believes the towers are unsightly and do not belong next to residential areas.

"I'd certainly hate to have it in my back yard," Banks said.

Telecommunications officials at the meeting said two cellular phone companies and six personal communication device companies currently are licensed by the federal government to operate in Jefferson County.

Each of the companies could put up its own towers, though Gartley said sometimes companies will share locations.

Planning Commission member H. Richard Flaherty said that based on his calculations from the number of towers needed by each company, 400 telecommunication towers could be put up in Jefferson County.

Pete Smith, of Middleway, W.Va., said he is an active amateur radio operator. He asked that any ordinance the planning commission comes up with makes a distinction between the less intrusive antennas of amateur radio enthusiasts and those used by commercial businesses.

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