Thursday, December 12, 2019
Verizon Wireless is suing the City of Jackson over what it claims is an unlawful and discriminatory denial of its application to build a cellphone tower in the city. The 90-page lawsuit will proceed to trial after Jackson City Council voted earlier this week to reject reaching a settlement with the corporation.
The lawsuit comes following the council's 3-to-1 vote last September to deny Verizon's application for a permit to build a 150-foot cell phone tower in south Jackson, located in Ward 6. Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks, who voted against the permit approval, said that he opposed the construction on the basis of residents' concerns. Those concerns primarily centered on the appearance of the proposed tower, which some residents consider an "eyesore."
On Oct. 16, Alltel Communications filed a lawsuit against the City in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. It claims that the City's decision was not backed by substantial evidence and violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which prevents state and local governments from regulating wireless services. Verizon also claims that the council's vote is discriminatory, since cell-phone towers exist elsewhere in the city, including those owned by other companies.
Verizon applied for a permit to build the tower at 196 Lakeshore Road on July 18. That location, Verizon has maintained, is "critical," as it is the only one that would allow the company "to develop a seamless wireless telecommunications network and to fill a significant gap in coverage and capacity in the area," court documents show.
Jackson Zoning Administrator Ester E. Ainsworth prepared a report on Aug 12 stating that the cell-phone tower construction would not "be detrimental to the continued use, value, or development of properties in the vicinity." On Aug 28, the Jackson Planning Board voted 6-to-3 to recommend that the council approve Verizon's application for a use permit to construct the tower.
But Verizon claims that its plan became derailed after a Sept. 16 public hearing, during which "a single local resident," whom the lawsuit also identifies as "a former City employee," raised "subjective and unsubstantiated opinions" to oppose the construction. The resident, Claude McCants, who is vice president of the Association of South Jackson, voiced concerns about radio frequency emissions stemming from the proposed tower and its detrimental impacts on the environment and potentially even on property values.
The American Cancer Society has stated that cell-phone towers are not linked to any health effects.
Following the public hearing, the zoning administrator sent a letter to Verizon on behalf of the city council. The letter served as an official notice to the company of the council's decision to deny Verizon's application for a use permit.
"The City Council was of the opinion that the criteria for granting the Use Permit had not been met," the letter read.
In the lawsuit, Verizon claims that it "has exhausted all of its administrative remedies." It refers to the injunction as "an appropriate remedy for violation of the TCA."
During its Dec. 10 regular meeting, city council voted 3-to-2 to reject the City's legal department's request to settle with Verizon, meaning that the City will now head to court.
"Being that this is a legal matter, I don't want to speak in detail, but I will say, I stand in support of the Ward 6 residents," Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said.
Banks derided Verizon for its "unwillingness to meet with (Jackson) constituents and to help find a workable way" out of the situation. He characterized Verizon's conduct as "a direct insult to not only this city but to the constituents we represent."
"I will say that zoning and land use is the most important thing we do as a city. ... We should have the ability to land use and zone our city as we see fit," Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps said.
Council President Virgi Lindsay said that while the decision has been a difficult one, it has forced the City to re-evaluate its land use plans and ordinances.
"I think that is the most positive thing that came out of this," she said.
Follow City Reporter Seyma Bayram on Twitter @SeymaBayram0. Send tips to email@example.com.
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