Raleigh, N.C. — Some Raleigh residents are criticizing the legal process the city uses to approve the locations for cellphone towers.
From his backyard near Dahlgreen Road, Joe Smith can point to the spot where a 180-foot AT&T cellphone tower will be springing up above the trees.
Smith said he got a letter that the Raleigh City Council would discuss the proposed tower site.
“I was expecting it just to be a sit-down with City Council discussing with a possibility of placing a tower in my backyard,” he said.
Instead, Smith said, he and his neighbors walked into a quasi-judicial hearing that Raleigh and many cities use to make land decisions.
During the hearing, which is more like a court proceeding than a council meeting, AT&T contractors offered up expert witnesses and evidence, something the residents said they couldn't afford.
“I’m trying to figure out how to pay for siding on my house. I can’t go hire an attorney or pay for an expert witness,” Smith said.
Kevin Rogers, the homeowners’ association president for Smith's neighborhood, said he “was really shocked.”
“I’ve been to a lot of City Council meetings, and I’ve never seen City Council sit as judge and jury for anything before,” Rogers said.
Neighbors said they also had concerns about how people were notified.
Smith got a notice because his backyard abuts the property being considered for the tower, as did a homeowner whose fence runs along the property line. People who live nearby and will be able to see the tower from their porches weren't notified because their backyards don’t touch the property.
North Carolina State University political science professor Andrew Taylor argues that the process is unconstitutional.
“Anyone, in order to participate effectively, must put up thousands of dollars to hire an attorney because the process shuts them out,” Taylor said.
Shut out is exactly how Smith says he feels.
“We already have the transmission lines, and adding a cell tower is going to make it look industrial,” he said.
On Tuesday, Raleigh City Council members plan to review how the city uses the procedures and whether more residents should be notified and given more time to respond.
That won't help Smith and his neighbors, however. They have 30 days to appeal the approval of the cell tower.