Board denies cell phone tower at corner of Main and Elmwood

The Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday denied a 90-foot cellphone tower, disguised as a flag pole, at the corner of Main Street and Elmwood Avenue amid neighbor protests.

In a 4 to 2 vote, the board denied the tower proposed by Clear Talk, a cellphone and Internet service company, which has a store and its South Carolina headquarters at the intersection.

Clear Talk likely will submit a new proposal for a different area near their 2101 Main St., store because the area where the company has its state headquarters is a “critical location” for a cellphone tower, said Tom Persons Sr., a Clear Talk board member.

The cellphone tower was intended to provide better data service and also could be used by other cell service providers Clear Talk would contract with, such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile.

Mike Feigenbaum, development manager for Clear Talk, said the vote was disappointing, but the company will be back with another plan. The company has made a significant investment in Columbia, Feigenbaum said.

“We’re a part of this community,” he said.

Neighbors voiced concerns about the aesthetics of the 90-foot poll, which would be 30 inches in diameter, at an intersection of Elmwood Avenue, Columbia’s busiest street. Ellen Cooper, president of the Cottontown/Bellevue Historic District and former school principal, said an average flag pole is about 30 feet high and 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

“This is not a flag pole,” Cooper said. “This is a cell tower with a flag on the top.”

The board members also discussed the aesthetics of the cellphone tower.

“You’re not going to be able to miss it,” Chairman Ernest W. Cromartie III said.

Board member Patricia Durkin said that the flag pole was tacky.

George Rogers, a former University of South Carolina football player and Heisman Trophy winner, attended the meeting to show support for Clear Talk. Rogers said Clear Talk has been loyal to the George Rogers Foundation, his nonprofit organization, which helps first-generation college students attend school.

Rogers said the cell tower would help the community, but he said he also understood the grievances from neighbors.

Clear Talk will consider those grievances before submitting new plans to the zoning board, Persons said.

“We’re very sensitive to the neighbors,” he said.