Friday, June 14, 2024

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Burlington planning board recommends against rezoning for Duke Energy telecommunications tower


Burlington’s planning and zoning commission shared neighbors’ frustrations and skepticism about a proposed 315-foot telecommunications tower off North Church Street that would be over 50 percent taller than the city’s current maximum allowable height.

The commission, an appointed advisory board to the city council, ultimately voted 5-1 to recommend that the city council deny the rezoning request.

The telecommunications tower, proposed to be built by Duke Energy, is on property owned by the utility company at the intersection of Holly Street and Maryland Avenue.  The lot is one of three parcels owned by Duke Power just off the juncture of North Main and North Church streets.

Of particular irritation to both nearby residents who spoke up during the meeting and to planning board members was that Duke wants to place the tower on this parcel without having done any testing about potential soil contamination.

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Meanwhile, the company avoided proposing putting the tower on the largest, more centrally located area within its three parcels, and farther away from adjacent residential areas, because the largest parcel does have contamination as identified by a survey that the company has not addressed.

The site that was chosen is the site of a former Burlington Manufactured Gas plant that operated around the 1920’s and 1930’s, the commission was told.

[Story continues below photo of potential location for telecommunications tower along Holly Street and Maryland Avenue.]

The tower is being requested and the taller height proposed, a Duke Energy representative and a company lawyer outlined both said that this tower, with its height in excess of city standards, is being proposed to reach electrical substations that would otherwise be out of range.

According to the company, at the city’s current maximum of 200 feet,  the new tower could reach 25 of 32 substations; at 300 feet, however, the reach would extend to 30 substations.

The tower is intended to replace the company’s 60-year-old tower in Glen Raven where it doesn’t have adequate land to build a replacement, explained Duke Energy’s David Fulmer.  Meanwhile, attorney Toby Coleman, the new tower is “designed to collapse on itself.”

While the company has “no plans” at the present time to rent out “co-locations” on the tower for commercial purposes – such as to cell phone companies – the rezoning requested would allow the company to add such antennae later. Planning board member Charlie Beasley summarized that the tower was “entirely for Duke Energy’s benefit.”


Neighborhood concerns and fears

But neighbors voiced a range of concerns including health, safety, and financial impact.

Ann Jones, representing her mother Diane McKinney who lives on Holly Street near the proposed tower site, said, “People in that area have died or had cancer,” and also voiced concerns that residents could lose value “up to 50 percent.”

Ann Jones makes a point as her mother (in blue at left) listens.

Nicholas Allen of Rainey Street also addressed the commission on behalf of Ruth Watson and himself, saying that the tower put their health in danger.

Nicholas Allen

“Who would welcome this in their neighborhood?” questioned Allen, saying he was “horrified” by the “unconscionable” possibility of “living too close to an electromagnetic field.”

Shannon Alvarenga said the tower would “definitely” decrease their property values.

Shannon Alvarenga

Alvarenga also wondered whether Duke had done a study on cleaning up its contaminated site in order to move the tower farther back from the residential areas along Holly Street.

Duke representatives downplayed any health dangers from the tower, saying that common household items such as microwaves and hair dryers have more electromagnetic impact that the tower would.

Dianne McKinney wondered aloud “Why can’t they [Duke] find a place with no homes [that would be impacted by the tower]?”

Diane McKinney

“Ya’ll wouldn’t want this [near your house],” she told planning board members.

Byron Keith White, another neighbor, questioned how much effort Duke had been put into an “outreach” meeting that it had held in October 2021, during the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which only one resident attended.

Byron Keith White

After almost an hour of discussion, vice chairman James Kirkpatrick moved to recommend denial of the rezoning request, which was seconded by Beasley.  Voting in favor of the motion for denial were Kirkpatrick, Beasley, chairman Richard Parker, and planning board members Lee Roane and Joan Zec Nelson. Planning board member John Black voted no on the motion to recommend denial.

The request will go before Burlington’s city council next month.

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