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Land use: Residents support cell tower near Tradition Club

Frank D’Amato never expected to write a letter like the one he drafted just before Christmas last year. And as president of the Traditions Homeowners Association, he has been involved with land use issues for a long time.

It was as president that he wrote to the Georgetown County Planning Commission that the association has no object to a 150-foot cellphone tower adjacent to the neighborhood. The commission will review the request when it meets today.

“I never thought I’d want one around our community,” D’Amato said.

A request for a similar “stealth” tower at Stables Park last year brought protests from residents who feared the structure would hurt their property values. The tower was approved, with commission members saying they needed to balance the need for better phone and data service with the impact of the tower on the neighbors.

The new tower is proposed for a site off Kings River Road at the Tradition Golf Club maintenance facility. At the same time American Tower was preparing its pitch for the Stables Park site, Optima Tower was flying a balloon over the Tradition site to let residents gauge how visible their tower would be.

D’Amato will be able to see the top of the tower from his property. If it was a tower bristling with antennas, he would feel differently, he said.

The proposed tower will have space for five antennas, but they will all be within the structure. “I think it will eventually blend in,” D’Amato said.

The homeowners association decided the improved service will outweigh any visual impact, he said.

The tower is in an area that Optima’s consultants said has “distressed or non-usable coverage.” That area, north of Litchfield Country Club, has a high volume of calls and is within 2 miles of three existing towers.

“Many Tradition residents were complaining about their cell service,” D’Amato said. “The only good reception in the area is from Verizon. Folks using other companies are having trouble.”

Verizon has a tower near the east end of Willbrook Boulevard.

“The tower is absolutely necessary in order to improve cellular service and data usage,” according to Optima’s application.

The county planning staff is recommending approval.

Also before the Planning Commission today is a proposal to change the zoning from commercial to residential for 7 acres along Petigru Drive. Some area residents objected that the property, formerly the site of the Waccamaw Farms nursery, was rezoned for commercial use.

Citing a shift in the commercial market, the owners want to create 16 single-family lots on a portion of the property. The property is a “planned development” zoning district.

The request brings the project into compliance with state law, which the Supreme Court said in a 2010 ruling requires planned developments to have a mix of residential and commercial uses, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

“Unfortunately, the commercial need within this corridor has not been as originally expected, and the property has remained mostly undeveloped,” according to the application. “The owner has recently received some interest in the property for residential development.”

Zoning of the planned development is based on its location in a “resort services” district. The zoning was changed in 2008 from “forest and agriculture.”

The proposed minimum lot size is 6,000 square feet. Four lots will back up to an isolated wetland where a 15-foot setback will be maintained, according to the proposal.

The planning staff recommends approval.

The commission meets at 5:30 p.m. in County Council chambers.

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