Matthews approves MARA stealth tower height extension

Matthews – Mint Hill Weekly

MATTHEWS – Residents of Matthews could soon see a 40-foot change to an existing stealth tower on Matthews Athletic & Recreation Association (MARA) property.
The Matthews Board of Commissioners approved on Monday, April 27, allowing the stealth tower to be extended from its current height of 80 feet to 120 feet, after a lengthy discussion between the board, MARA Holding real estate developer Keith Powell and Susan Urban, MARA’s attorney.
The extension was approved 6-1, with Mayor Jim Taylor casting the sole dissenting vote. Taylor voiced concerns about the approval leading to more requests for stealth tower extensions in Matthews.
“I don’t think there’s a compelling reason to complete it, and I’m concerned about future cell tower increases,” he said.

The red balloon shows the location of highest point of the stealth tower after the 40-foot increase. Photo courtesy of the town of Matthews.

Commissioner Jeff Miller questioned why the tower had remained without power since it was built in 2009. Powell explained cell carriers halted building budgets for five to six years because of the recession. Urban followed by explaining T-Mobile made an internal decision to submit permits for the tower in December 2014.
“T-Mobile capital expansions are taking place – they’ve physically installed cables, antennas and ground equipment,” said Powell.
The board worried the stealth tower wouldn’t attract more carriers and would sit as it has for a number of years. Taylor said most citizens who contacted him about cell service problems had service through Verizon Wireless.
“If the tower is approved, nothing could increase connectivity if they (Verizon) don’t go on it,” he said.
T-Mobile and AT&T are currently contracted to this tower, but AT&T’s contract technically requires the extension, as would other prospective carriers.
Commissioners Kress Query and John Higdon questioned the safety of the structure, given its proximity to ball fields. They wanted to confirm children wouldn’t be able to tamper with fatally dangerous equipment or climb into the workspace. Powell said the electrical components would be enclosed in a sealed unit and an 8-foot fence would surround the facility, requiring security clearance for entry.
The board concluded the height increase would provide better quality of life for those living within the 5.2-mile radius of the tower, which Powell said would be its highest coverage zone.
Commissioner Chris Melton commented in support of the motion to approve the tower’s extension.
“I support the motion because I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me what technology is going to be in a few months,” Melton said. “I’d much rather us say in the future, ‘I’m glad we did,’ than, ‘I wish we had.’”
The tower has been a hot topic for the board since December 2014, when MARA requested rezoning from rural to R/I zoning as segue to increase the tower’s height.
Most public comments were in favor of the extension, with one recounting a safety hazard during a rugby game. Eric Saxon, a MARA coach, previously told the board he had to make a 911 call concerning an injured rugby player from the parking lot because cellphone service was spotty.
Construction dates for the extension of the stealth tower have not yet been announced.

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