Dozens of Murrayville residents sitting in the audience during a New Hanover County Commissioners meeting March 2 clapped and cheered following the board’s 4-1 vote to deny a request to place a 150-foot cell tower at 6516 Murrayville Road.
The request for a special use permit was recommended for approval by county planning staff. The tower, proposed for a 60- by 60-foot lot in the center of a 7.32-acre parcel off residentially zoned Murrayville Road, would improve wireless service for T-Mobile and Verizon users in the Murrayville area and along Interstate 140 between its intersection with Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 17, said Raleigh-based attorney Gray Styers.
After a request for a special use permit is vetted by county planning staff, county commissioners can deny a permit if the project would endanger public health or safety, injure adjacent property values without providing a public necessity, be disharmonious with the surrounding neighborhood, or not fulfill other conditions and requirements.
The cell tower would not be in harmony with the area, and thus would not fulfill all conditions required to grant a special use permit, argued Wilmington-based attorney John Wessell, who represented Melissa Stoll, an adjacent property owner in opposition of the project.
Styers denied claims that the tower would be disharmonious with the area, citing multiple examples of development in New Hanover County and Raleigh where towers are clearly visible from thriving subdivisions and communities. The North Carolina appeals courts have upheld special use projects as harmonious with an area if the same use is allowed in similarly zoned districts in the community, Styers said. He insisted the commissioners base their decision on evidence provided that proved the request satisfies all necessary conditions to grant a special use permit, not the feelings expressed by Murrayville residents.
“This is allowed as a special use in residential districts. … As a special use permit, your job is not to determine, as you all know, whether or not this is a good idea or a bad idea. The county ordinance states that these towers, at this height, are allowed in these districts if we meet all the requirements,” Styers said.
After questioning how the cell company determined no other nearby locations could serve their need and securing details about court rulings cited by both sides, Commissioner Woody White agreed with Styers the decision must be based on evidence, not citizen concerns about seeing something they do not want to see.
“Although it’s nice to see a lot of citizens here who vote, pay taxes and have interest in their local government, it’s not evidence. Whether you have one person or 200 people, that’s not evidentiary. It’s not something you can consider as fact,” White said.
White voted with Vice Chair Beth Dawson and Commissioners Skip Watkins and Rob Zapple to deny the request following one and one-half hour long presentations, public comment and conversation. Chairman Jonathan Barfield, Jr. who discussed a need for infrastructure development in growing areas of the county, voted against the motion to deny the request.
New Hanover County commissioners also cited disharmony with the area in their decision to deny the request in 2006.