U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Representative John J. Duncan, Jr., (R-Tenn.) yesterday sent a letter to Blount County Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Rob Walker suggesting alternatives to a wireless cellular service provider’s proposal to erect an unlighted, 180-foot, brown monopole cell tower on a prominent hill just outside Townsend and the nearby entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains. The letter was sent in advance of a hearing the board is holding today on the proposed cell tower. The text of the letter follows:
“A number of Tennesseans have raised concerns with us about the proposed 180 foot cell tower on a 1700 foot knob just outside of the City of Townsend which is a subject of your hearing on December 3.
“We are writing because we believe there are several good ways to expand cell service without damaging the historic and scenic character of the Townsend area and this popular entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“For example, Germantown outside Memphis has approved a 100 foot tall six carrier tower camouflaged as a pine tree. Another city uses three flags poles which are 85 feet tall. A growing number of cities are approving such ‘stealth towers’ which are barely noticeable.
“Other cities require several carriers to locate together on an existing tower or structure to avoid building several towers. Many cities require that towers be much smaller than the 180 foot tower proposed for Townsend.
“We have enclosed photographs of these ‘stealth towers’ and articles describing how other cities are using them. One of the articles describes how AT&T is putting up 70 foot tall cell phone antenna that will be disguised as a giant flagpole.
“The City of Townsend has worked hard to preserve its historic and scenic character. Its own zoning ordinances would require cell towers to ‘blend into the immediate environment’ and be ‘as inconspicuous as possible.’ The county’s own regulations require towers to ‘blend in.’ For 25 years the state and county have worked together to prevent eyesores along Highway 321 and create one of the most attractive entrances to any national park.
“The issue of cell towers will be coming up more often as cell service expands into rural areas. We doubt that most East Tennesseans are looking forward to seeing a huge cell tower between themselves and their views of the Smokies. Over 1.4 million visitors a year who enter the Great Smokies through Townsend, and who create good jobs, come to see the mountains, not cell towers.
“While this is a local and not a federal decision, it would be our hope that county officials would take into account the various ways that exist to improve cell phone service without damaging the historic and scenic character of one of the most beautiful parts of our country.”