Andrew Dys

Even judge is puzzled: Controversial Clover cell tower still in limbo

Neighbors and at least one town councilman in Clover are fuming over plans for a 180-foot cell tower to be built near houses. In this file photo, neighbor Ed Dees Jr., left, and town councilman Todd Blanton look over the proposed site for the cell tower on Walnut Street.
Neighbors and at least one town councilman in Clover are fuming over plans for a 180-foot cell tower to be built near houses. In this file photo, neighbor Ed Dees Jr., left, and town councilman Todd Blanton look over the proposed site for the cell tower on Walnut Street. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Sometimes court has drama. Sometimes court has pain and anguish. This week in court, for a case involving a cell tower, there was bewilderment.

So much so that in Clover’s controversial man-versus-city hall drama over a 180-foot cell phone tower in a neighborhood where residents have opposed, court now has a new twist after a court hearing that decided nothing yet:

A puzzled judge. A judge who has spent the past 45 years as one of the most respected and knowledgeable people in South Carolina about real estate.

But in Clover, simply, the zoning records presented are confusing even to him.

“There’s not a lot of clarity in the record,” said Master-in-Equity Judge Jack Kimball about what he is supposed to decide about a cell tower and whether a company has the right to build it and whether people want it.

So he didn’t decide. Kimball took the issue under advisement late Wednesday so that he can research what is going on with zoning records that are confusing at best.

The records will apparently answer the one question that might keep a tower from being built 40 yards from Ed Dees Jr.’s house: Was the property where a conglomerate wants to build a 180-foot tower ever changed from residential zoning to industrial, if it ever was zoned residential in the first place?

For a year, the proposed cell tower in Clover has pitted the people – with Dees and Town Councilman Todd Blanton out front yelling – against the town and the company.

The issue is not whether is a tower needed. All agree it is.

Dees, Blanton and dozens of neighbors just don’t want it built so close to them that they can almost touch it. Or where it could fall on them.

The tower company says it is designed to fall straight down if there is calamity. Dees, whose head would be under the tower if it did not fall straight down, is not so sure. His lawyer is not so sure, either.

There have been marches and signs – it is so serious for Clover people that cupcakes have been sold to raise money to fight the tower.

Dees fought a town permit, and the town’s board of zoning appeals (BZA) in May denied the permit for the tower that Towercom had, saying the zoning was unclear. But Towercom sued the town, and Towercom and the town both say the zoning is clear from at least 1998 and want all this hubbub from the people stopped so the cranes can start construction.

“That’s where we are at – did the BZA do it right?” stated tower lawyer Thomas Tisdale. “The only issue is it zoned industrial or not?”

Dees says it is not. But Dees until recently was a Lowe’s store worker who was fighting city hall with nothing but a garden trowel. The tower company had lawyers and engineers and money. Dees had a mortgage and a sick wife who had a throat surgery and a worry that his house would be worth an outhouse if a tower was built 40 yards away.

Yet now, instead of just one man and his neighbors against city hall and lawyers for the big company, Dees has an ally – his own lawyer named Brian McCoy. McCoy is no shrinking violet – he has twice argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

When McCoy saw for himself how close the tower would be to homes – he was stunned. Shocked.

People against the tower are so united they brought in people with nearby property willing to allow a tower there – the tower company has so far said no, thanks – and have started a a GoFundMe page to pay McCoy.

On Tuesday in court, McCoy came out swinging, first slamming the cell company’s attempt to introduce zoning records into the appeal after the fact and more.

“You have got to prove it is industrial before you put up a 180-foot structure and disrupt the status quo,” McCoy argued.

Still, Kimball the judge who was on Rock Hill’ zoning appeals board for years before taking the bench, wants proof. He wants answers to a simple question he stated in court himself: “Was the zoning ever changed?”

So until the judge gets the answers, there will be no decision on whether the tower can proceed or not. Or if Kimball will send it back to the zoning board again for another hearing – Clover once had an illegal board member – as he did earlier this year.

Nobody wanted to give a statement to The Herald after the hearing because nothing had been decided.

And even then, it seems clear, whichever side loses will appeal to the S.C. Court of Appeals and maybe even higher. It could take years.

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