ALBEMARLE — After nearly 90 minutes of comments from the public and discussion among Stanly County commissioners at Monday night’s board meeting, a zoning request for the proposed construction of a cell phone tower in the Frog Pond area was denied.
An audible cheer from the crowd in attendance filled the room as the motion to approve the tower plans for the 16271 McLester Road property — outlined by Cellco Partnership and Verizon — was halted by a 3-3 split vote by the board.
Vice Chairman Tommy Jordan, Commissioner Peter Asciutto and Commissioner Scott Efird voted in favor of the tower while Chairman Bill Lawhon, Commissioner Lane Furr and Commissioner Mike Barbee voted against it.
Commissioner Zach Almond requested to be recused from the vote; that action was approved by a 5-1 vote, with the lone vote against the recusal coming from Asciutto.
“With the reasons I’ve been told for his recusal, I run them through my head — I could have used them many times to recuse myself. I have confidence in my commissioners that we can make impartial decisions up here,” Ascuitto said.
Almond stated that he was following advice by county staff to request a recusal due to a gray area of involvement in the matter at hand.
“I’m not being disrespectful to Mr. Ascuitto, but whenever he obtains a law degree, I might consider heeding his council,” Almond said.
Prior to the vote on the zoning request, a few commissioners explained their reasoning for their particular decisions.
“I think this has been the single most thought-about and talked-about decision this board has made in the last year and a half, believe it or not,” Jordan said. “There is a lot more than just ‘am I going to have to look at this tower over there in the woodline?’ This is one of many towers that are going to have to go up in Stanly County if we are going to get our infrastructure up to date.”
Jordan mentioned that the construction of a cell tower would provide increased 4G cell phone reception to emergency medical services, fire departments, school buses, among “150 things that use this service.”
On March 9, the Stanly County Planning Board requested a denial of the cell tower proposal with a 4-3 vote. At their April 19 meeting, Stanly commissioners voted 4-2 to keep the public hearing on the matter open until the May 17 meeting and to allow the planning board more time to process additional information provided by Cellco and Verizon.
“When they turned it down the first time, they didn’t have enough information. When the cell phone folks came back to them, they provided information that met all of the requirements of the planning and zoning board,” Ascuitto said, noting that in his estimation the proposed tower would be a net benefit to the county residents.
Ascuitto specifically addressed Charlie Hinson — the owner of the property that has been highlighted by Cellco for the tower — as well as many of Hinson’s neighbors, all of whom spoke in stark opposition to the plan.
“This is difficult because all your folks are here, and you don’t want it in your backyard; but we have 65,000 people in Stanly County,” Ascuitto continued. “I drove to your area numerous times and it would be put in the middle of the woods.”
In opposition to the cell tower, Barbee stated that the aesthetics and location concerns were too great to ignore, instead recommending that it could be placed in another location to “protect the scenic view and produce a more harmonious situation.”
The Stanly County Board of Commissioners will hold its next regular meeting on June 7 at 6 p.m.