Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston cast the tie-breaking vote to deny a controversial cell phone tower on Monticello Road Thursday night.
Towercom had requested permission to build a 199-foot tower at 6163 Monticello Road for AT&T and T-Mobile customers. Towercom attorney Ellen Smith said after discussions with the council and planning commission in the past few months, Towercom agreed to lower the tower’s height to 169 feet.
She said studies of the tower’s proposed location by consultants hired by the city and company had shown that it would provide the minimum coverage the carriers needed and that it would not impact surrounding homes or property values. At the city’s request, Towercom researched all other sites in a quarter-mile radius of the proposed site, including city-owned property, but none worked for the carriers’ needs, she said.
To the contrary, resident James Milligan said he spoke to five or six real estate experts about the tower, all of whom agreed his neighborhood would be negatively impacted by the tower. He urged the council to reject the tower, even if Towercom sued.
“I’ve always been one of those ‘if it’s going to be a fight, let’s fight,’” he said.
After public comments, the council called a brief executive session to hear opinions from the city’s attorneys. Then things got interesting.
Councilwoman Janet Goodman motioned that the city approve the shorter tower, with councilwoman Ocie Franklin providing a second. Hawnethia Williams joined the pair in approving the tower, but councilmen Chris Smith, Keith Dalton and Michael Whatley voted against it. Johnston is only allowed to vote to break ties, and did so by siding with Smith, Dalton and Whatley.
Ellen Smith immediately left, refusing to comment on the decision. Two hours later, she was back in the meeting. Just before the meeting ended, associate city attorney Frank Turner Jr. advised the council that simply voting “no” on a motion to approve the tower would not suffice. Federal law says a tower not specifically disapproved by a municipality is considered automatically approved.
Whatley then made a motion to deny the request, with Dalton, Smith, and, in another tie-breaking vote, Johnston agreeing. Goodman, Frankling and Williams again voted to support it.