Planners delay vote on antenna proposal

The Planning Commission delayed voting Tuesday on an AT&T proposal to place cell phone antennas on the Ashland Street Cinemas after more than 100 people attended to show their opposition.

The commission will address the issue June 8.

More than 30 community members spoke at the Tuesday meeting in the City Council Chambers and about 20 submitted letters beforehand. Most of the speakers and letter writers said they were opposed to the plan to place 12 antennas on the theater at 1644 Ashland St.

Opponents said they were concerned the antennas would emit harmful radiation, drive away business and be unsightly.

The owners of the Hidden Springs Wellness Center, located in the same shopping center as the movie theater, said they have collected about 250 signatures from people opposed to the antennas.

"We have 13 holistic health care practitioners at Hidden Springs and none of them have said that they're willing to work close to a microwave tower," said Rod Newton, who owns the wellness center with his wife, Brooks.

"Without practitioners we can't continue to do business and we'd have to close our door and sell the property," he said.

Three people at the meeting spoke in favor of the antennas.

Judi Johnston, a registered nurse, said the antennas would provide her with cell phone coverage at her home.

"I have no cell coverage at my house, which is half a mile from the location, and my business is dependent on my cell coverage," she said. "We definitely need some towers. We need some cell coverage."

AT&T wants to put antennas on the theater because its cell phone and wireless Internet coverage is spotty in south Ashland.

AT&T's plan calls for increasing the height of the theater building's pointed facade to 40 feet and placing the antennas inside.

Commissioners did not weigh in on the issue Tuesday. However, several commissioners asked city planners to do more research on the antennas and to bring the information to the June 8 meeting.

They were especially curious about how to interpret Ashland's ordinance regarding the installation of cell phone antennas and towers. The ordinance states that cell companies should place antennas on already existing hubs if possible. Antennas are located on top of the Ashland Springs Hotel and the Holiday Inn Express.

Gary Spanovich, a land-use planner with Goodman Networks, which has a contract with AT&T, said locating an antenna on either of the hotels would not provide the coverage AT&T desires.

"The Holiday Inn Express and the Ashland Springs Hotel, co-locating with them would not help solve the problem. We need something in the middle," he said.

Commissioner Melanie Mindlin questioned whether the company was being accurate in its statements that placing an antenna at the Holiday Inn Express would not work because written documents appeared to suggest that the site was an option, albeit a less preferable one.

"What I heard you read didn't say less possible or not feasible, it said less good," she said.

Commissioners closed the public hearing at the end of the Tuesday meeting, but people can submit letters to the commission on the matter until 4:30 p.m. May 19.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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