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County considers cell tower in Litchfield Park

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A 154-foot-high flagpole proposed for a site in Litchfield isn’t a show of patriotism. It’s a way to disguise a cell phone tower.

American Tower Corp. is soliciting comments on the project, which calls for placing the "stealth" tower on a 1,000-square-foot site within the new Georgetown County park. The company contacted the county about a tower site while the county was negotiating the purchase of 80 acres for the community park in 2009, County Administrator Sel Hemingway said.

“We didn’t want it to interfere with the ultimate design for the park,” he said, so the county didn’t give the company a definitive answer.

Now that the plans are complete, there is a portion of the park along an undeveloped stretch of Parkersville Road that could accommodate a tower, he said.

No application has been received by the county, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

“If it’s going on that property, we’ll require a balloon test,” Johnson said.

A balloon would be tethered to a 154-foot rope and floated over the site to gauge its visual impact. It would be the first time the county has done such a test, he said.

“Anything in the Litchfield-Pawleys area we would do that for,” Johnson said. “This will be one we will scrutinize.”

It’s unclear whether a tower can be located in the park because it is still zoned for residential use. The county zoning ordinance doesn’t allow telecommunications towers in residential districts.

American Tower’s notice of the project lists the tract as “MR-10” residential. “You can’t put a tower in MR-10,” Johnson said.

One portion of the park is zoned “forest and agriculture.” That property is a former horse farm that is planned for a tennis complex. It’s adjacent to Litchfield Country Club.

“Some of the people in this area would be very concerned about it,” said Bo Long, president of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations and a country club resident. “It sort of tarnishes the view from their property.”

County Council Member Jerry Oakley also lives in the country club. He said he was aware of American Tower’s interest, but not with the details of the proposal.

 “They were willing to pay some serious rent,” he said.

The lease price was $1,000 to $1,200 a month, said Beth Goodale, the county recreation director, who spoke with the company’s attorney, Jonathan Yates.

Yates said he could not comment on the project, and no one from American Tower could be reached Wednesday.

“We are not endorsing or assisting them in this endeavor,” Goodale said.

The possible site for the tower was identified by the park planners. “There is a little corner that would not impact the park,” she said.

The tower is one of several around the county that have been proposed by AT&T, Johnson said. The Planning Commission is scheduled to review a 250-foot tower in the Plantersville area.

“There are several holes that they are trying to fill,” Oakley said.

He said the county needs to balance the need for improved cell phone service with the impact of towers on aesthetics.

“They’re a necessary evil until we figure out a better way,” Oakley said. “If we want good cell service we’re going to have to have the towers.”

And he said the industry is doing more to make the towers less noticeable.

There is already one “stealth” tower on Waccamaw Neck. Horry Telephone Cooperative replaced a 70-foot metal tower in Murrells Inlet with a 120-foot monopole in 2008. All the antennas are contained within the tower.

The existing tower was in a residential district along Business 17 where the company once had an office. The change in towers had the approval of the Preserve Murrells Inlet citizens group, and was passed by the Planning Commission without comment.

Money from leasing park property for a cell phone tower would be welcome, but “I don’t think we want the income at the expense of making some nearby property owners unhappy,” Oakley said. “It comes down to how those folks feel.”

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