Request for rezoning proposed McLester cell tower fails

Approval of the overlay district for a cellphone tower on a portion of land on McLester Road hit a different sort of roadblock at Monday’s meeting of the Stanly County Commissioners.

Two separate motions, one to deny the request and one to approve it, were made, but neither received enough support to pass. Both motions finished tied 3-3, with Commissioner Zack Almond recusing himself from the vote.

Planning and Zoning Director Bob Remsburg again presented the commissioners with the request by Charlie and Patricia Almond, owners of the property.

A public hearing still open from the previous commissioners’ meeting continued Monday with several residents speaking against the tower, along with lawyers representing people for and against the tower, a representative from Verizon and property owner Patricia Hinson.

“We are neither greedy nor money hungry,” Patricia Hinson said, adding the extra money from the tower would continue to go to fill shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid organization.

Patricia said she and her husband buy goods throughout the year to fill “hundreds and hundreds of boxes” to be distributed over the world.

Verizon representative Victoria Farmer said the tower would “address Verizon’s significant need to improve coverage and network data speeds for customers.”

Before the motions were made and voted upon, Almond asked to be recused from the vote.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto voted against recusing Almond, saying “from time to time, you have to make tough decisions.”

“I just feel we should vote when we vote,” Asciutto said. “If I feel it’s for the citizens of Stanly County, you have make that vote and those tough calls.”

During the meeting, Almond responded to Asciutto, saying he did not get time before the first meeting to consult the School of Government regarding recusing himself.

“At such time, I consulted with the county staff and they said whenever there is a gray area, you should lean on being safe. That’s not a cop out. I’d love to vote on this,” Almond said.

“I’m not being disrespectful to Mr. Asciutto, but whenever he obtains a law degree, I might consider heeding his counsel,” Almond added.

After the meeting, Almond said he was shocked to learn of Chris Duggan’s involvement in the case. A Union County attorney, Duggan represented several landowners surrounding the proposed site for the tower.

The commissioner said he recused himself from Monday’s meeting because of “several interests” he and Duggan have together.

Commissioners voted 5-1 to recuse Almond from the vote, which meant four of the six remaining commissioners would have to agree on a motion in order for it to pass.

Mike Barbee moved to deny the application for the overlay district, listing “aesthetics and location concerns.”

“The tower could be placed at another location to protect the scenic view and produce a more harmonious situation. The applicant has not sufficiently identified (and) evaluated less intrusive alternatives, including consideration of (a) less sensitive site, alternative design and technical alternatives,” Barbee said in making the motion.

Furr seconded the motion to deny the request, and voted for the motion along with Barbee and Chairman Bill Lawhon. The motion failed.

Later, Asciutto moved to approve the rezoning request, seconded by Vice Chairman Tommy Jordan. Both voted yes on the motion along with Scott Efird. Furr, Barbee and Lawhon voted no on the second motion.

“Both motions have failed. Therefore, the zoning request has been denied,” Lawhon said, with citizens in attendance applauding their approval.

After the meeting, Andy Hinson, speaking about the decision, said the matter should be over.

“(It would be) foolish of them to pursue,” he said. “(Verizon) has not proven a significant gap (in coverage).”

Charlie Hinson, commenting on the failure of the rezoning request, said “(the commissioners) made their decision.”

Remsburg said after the meeting an additional request could be made in 12 months for the same parameters, or within six to seven months if the project had significant changes. Any changes would have to be approved by the county’s Planning Board in order for an application to be processed and return before the commissioners.