Middleburg, FL

Clay County commissioners approve land use change to allow cell tower in Middleburg

Julie Morgan

Cell tower between trees under cloudy skyPhoto byCaleb Oquendo

The Clay County Board of County Commissioners has approved the future land use designation for a parcel of land in Middleburg near Fox Meadow.

The property owner would like to allow a communications company to erect a cell tower on his land. A change in the land use designation would allow the cell tower.

The property in question is undeveloped wooded land on the east side of Live Oak Lane, north of Robert King Road and just north of the Jennings State Forest Fire and Water Nature Trail Trailhead.

Paul Pleasant owns the property and says it’s unclear just yet if the company will “go with the minimum or maximum height” for the tower. He said if they choose the latter, they will “camouflage” it according to the development code.

However, aesthetics are not the main reason one family attended Tuesday night’s BCC meeting to speak out against this item on the agenda.

“There are dangers. Cell tower damage is real. We just don’t know what it is for sure,” said Gregory Archambault, who lives on Saddlehorn Trail near the proposed site.

“I am uneasy about exposing my family to significant electromagnetic frequency radiation that comes with the short distance,” said Mrs. Archambault. She collected 40 signatures from people who are not in favor of having a cell phone tower in the area. Archambault also listed other reasons for not wanting the structure near her home. She said it devalues property, it’s an eyesore, and it will have a negative impact on wildlife.

County Attorney Courtney Grimm informed the board that the Federal Communications Act “preempts local decisions that are premised on the environmental effects such as the radio frequency emissions.” Put simply, they are not allowed to consider RF radiation when deciding.

Another Fox Meadow resident took a different stance on the subject. Kevin Drinkwater said the cell service gets spotty in the back of the neighborhood, creating a safety issue. In addition, he’s heard from many residents who want better reception.

“We have an informal survey on our own Fox Meadow Civic Association. One hundred nine residents would prefer to have a cell tower versus 24 that didn’t,” said Drinkwater.

Ultimately, the board unanimously approved the change in future land use designation from rural residential to Branan Field rural suburbs.

“I think the public safety outweighs any potential risk to RF exposure,” said Commissioner Jim Renninger.

Board chair Betsy Condon agreed with Renninger. “We live in a society now where most people don’t have house phones. So, the ability for your child’s school to contact you is real.”

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