Cell tower fight moves to court

Residents of the of Candlewood subdivision in Mount Pleasant have asked a judge to reverse a board ruling in December upholding a town permit for a 195-foot-tall cell phone tower on Whipple Road.

Alice Dull

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Candlewood subdivision residents opposed to a 195-foot-tall cell phone tower on Whipple Road have taken their fight to court.

The residents' suit is against the town, the Board of Zoning Appeals and SCANA. It asks a judge to reverse a board ruling in December upholding a town permit for the SCANA-built tower. And it raises a number of town zoning code issues that relate to placement of telecommunications towers such as health, safety and aesthetics.

"The tower applicant (SCANA) failed to show evidence that the tower will not endanger the health and safety of the residents," according to a copy of the suit.

"The record will show that one child who lives next to the tower has a pacemaker and his parents were advised that the child should not play in his neighbor's backyard," the suit states. "Another resident in the immediate area testified that she was a former cancer patient and that she has read and cited several reliable studies that indicate that such towers emit high radiation levels and electromagnetic field levels."

SCANA asks in court papers filed in March that the Candlewood homeowners suit be dismissed. It says that federal law prohibits state and local agencies, including zoning boards, from regulating telecommunications towers based on concerns about environmental effects of radio frequency emissions as long as the towers comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Homeowners Mark Bevivino and Alan Lincoln filed separate appeals of Zoning Administrator Kent Prause's decision to allow the tower, which was upheld in a 4-2 vote in December by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Bevivino and Lincoln declined comment on the suit on Wednesday, and referred questions to Melinda Lucka, the lawyer representing those who filed suit. Six other Candlewood residents have joined in the suit.

The $250,000 SCANA tower was built in October.

"We're not inclined to talk about it until everything goes through court," said Patricia Freshwater, public affairs manager for South Carolina Electric & Gas. SCANA Corp. is SCE&G's parent company.

Attorneys for the town did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The town staff is in the process of reviewing its regulations concerning wireless communication towers, and plans to make recommendations on the issue to Town Council.

Lucka said she will write a letter on behalf of the Candlewood Neighborhood Association suggesting that the town strengthen its regulations governing the towers. Of particular interest are issues such as whether wireless technology could be located on an existing tower rather than a new tower. Review of such applications at the board level rather than staff approval also is of concern. Charleston County has a stronger review process for telecommunications towers, she said.

"We hope that in the future utility applicants will have to go through a more rigorous application process than what exists now in Mount Pleasant," she said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at pfindlay@postandcourier.com or 937-5711.