The Fayette Citizen-News Page
Wednesday, August 26, 1998
Planning for cell towers proves complicated

Staff Writer

Seven cellular phone companies have already erected about 50 communications towers in Fayette County and have plans for more over the next 18 months.

But getting a handle on how many more and where in the county they might go has proved to be a more difficult task than anticipated for the Fayette County Planning Commission. "We can't very well make plans when you aren't telling us where you are and where you want to be," county attorney Bill McNally told representatives of the tower companies during last week's workshop meeting.

Following a series of controversial requests for cell phone tower permits, the commission is working to develop a master plan for the towers.

The cell phone company representatives promised to develop estimates for the next 18 months and present those at the commission's next workshop meeting, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. Commission members said they want estimates that go out three to five years, but the representatives said that's impossible.

"We have to do something," said Bob Harbison, commission chairman. "If conditions change down the road, then we as a commission will have to sit down and address that."

Either way, he said, "We're going to have a plan."

Sean Caskie of Powertel Corp. said part of the problem in developing a master plan for seven companies is that their goals and philosophy aren't all the same. For instance, he said, Air Touch Cellular tries to locate its towers along major roads because its belief is that cell phones will be used mostly for mobile communication, in cars.

Powertel thinks people will eventually use cell phones to replace regular telephones at home. "We want our system to work wherever you are," he said.

How many towers are needed is partly a function of distance between towers and partly a function of how many people live in a given area, said Steven Bush of Nextel. "When we come into a new area, we can put up a tall tower and serve all the customers in the area," he said, "but there's a limit to the number of customers who can use that tower at one time. Once you have more customers in an area, that's what drives our need for more towers."

Commissioners told the company representatives to study the county's land use plan and use it to project future population throughout the county and use those numbers to predict future need for towers, but there are other complicating factors, said the representatives.

"The topography of the land affects how many towers," said Caskie. "There are topo maps of Fayette County," Harbison retorted. "I honestly think that if you tried you could come up with something we could use as a tool for planning."

The representatives promised to do their best and come back Sept. 17.

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