MATTHEWS – As Christmas approaches, attention naturally turns to evergreens, be they natural or fake.
This year in Matthews, some of that attention has been diverted to one particular proposed fake pine, and it wouldn’t be in the corner of anybody’s great room, though some folks claim they could see it from there.
Usually the only sneaky thing prowling around the Yule is the Grinch, but this year it’s the tree itself that would be stealthy.
A Charlotte-based company called the Berkeley Group LLC is causing a little stir around Stumptown with its proposal to plant a cellular tower at Elizabeth Lane Elementary School that would be disguised as a “stealth tree,” according to a rezoning petition filed with the town.
Berkeley might withdraw the petition in the face of public uproar, at least temporarily. But Matthews Planning Director Kathi Ingrish said that, in any event, the town will hold a community meeting called “Wireless 101” for town staff and residents to discuss cell tower issues in general.
It’s usually no big deal to see a cell tower on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ campuses, which are close to neighborhoods whose residents use mobile phones. The schools like the deal because they make money from the carriers who use the tower.
But in this particular case, those residents are raising a regular ruckus about the tower, which would be surrounded by a 240-foot fence and would be 120 feet tall, literally towering over the other trees on the school property.
One letter of protest, filed by neighbor James Hunter, pretty much sums up the arguments against it: The tower would be “an eyesore to the pristine, tree-lined backyard we enjoy”; electromagnetic radiation would be “a danger to the children’s, teachers’ and residents’ health”; “plenty of other commercial- and industrial-zone properties” around the area could be used instead; and service in the neighborhood is already good, so “why is this cellphone tower in our backyards even necessary?”
Hunter also throws in one more personal rationale: “As a young man once,” he was sorely tempted to surreptitiously climb towers “during or after school,” as might today’s students.
Berkeley officials had answers to these concerns, though the residents appeared to be unimpressed by them.
“The demand for wireless services and signal in that area continues to increase dramatically as the use of data is at an all-time high,” Berkeley official Bonnie Newell said late last week. “I am convinced that a solution is near that ties together the essential infrastructure need and the spirit and beauty of the area.”
For that reason, Newell said, the company might withdraw its rezoning request “to evaluate some options and to implement the comments.”
As of now, the petition is scheduled to be heard by the Town Board at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at Town Hall, 232 Matthews Station Street. The Wireless 101 session will be held regardless on Jan. 8, at the same time and place, Ingrish said.
Meantime, The Mecklenburg Times wishes you happy holidays and advises you to try to resist any temptation to climb a cell tower. Or, for that matter, your Christmas tree, Hanukkah bush or Festivus pole.