EDITORIAL: The dark (cell-phone) tower

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Battleground Avenue, Greensboro One of these things is not like the other.

The Ardmore cell-phone tower, cleared by Winston-Salem City Council on Monday night for a spot behind Twin City Bible Church near Silas Creek Parkway, is in and of itself not such a terrible thing.

We all love and need our phones, and most of us harbor uncharitable thoughts towards our carriers when our devices lose coverage. More towers are inevitable, in the same way more car-charging stations are inevitable, as the years progress. And hey — they can even make them look like trees now.

The Ardmore tower, known in the parlance as a “slick stick” because it’s basically just a giant flagpole without a flag, is problematic and not just because of its somewhat grotesque name.

No, the Ardmore tower’s problems stem from the fact that once a network decides to plant a pole, there’s not very much anybody can do about it. And it was enough to make Councilman James Taylor of the Southeast Ward march from the council chambers in a small act of defiance.

The NC General Assembly passed HB 310 this year, a bill that prioritizes strengthening the state’s wireless network by fast-tracking the permitting process and tying cities’ hands in terms of regulation, taxation and objection. No prohibitions. No moratoriums. No mechanism to deny a permit unless it meets one of four very specific concerns: Does it run afoul of existing codes? Is it safe? Does it meet existing design standards? Will it reduce property values?

These all come down to matters of fact; Ardmore residents’ argument about lower property values was refuted by the telecom company’s appraiser, which is enough to satisfy the letter of the law.

It’s just one of the ways in which the state erodes a city’s ability to self-govern, a troubling trend in North Carolina politics, slowly turning our city council meetings into farces with outcomes dictated from on high.

At the point of action, perhaps the only appropriate response is the one employed by Taylor: Throw up your hands and walk out of the room, even if it’s purely symbolic — which it was. Taylor’s vote was counted as a “yes” because had had not recused himself from the vote.

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