FAA's 120-foot tower frustrates Columbus neighbor

On Halloween last year, Kimberly Davidson found a 120-foot metal tower awaiting assembly on the small vacant lot next to her Reed Avenue home.

She didn’t think it was a treat.

Since then, Davidson has fought the Federal Aviation Administration and the city of Columbus to keep the wind-shear tower from being erected next to her $125,000 house.

It looks like the battle — which has taken her to the Government Center, her congressman’s office, Muscogee County Superior Court and Federal Court — is coming to an end.

An FAA spokesperson said late Thursday afternoon that the agency was moving forward with plans to erect the tower, the last of seven that will give air traffic controllers critical information about wind direction near Columbus Metropolitan Airport.

“Somebody makes a mistake and I have to suffer the consequences,” Davidson said Thursday morning while she was standing in her front yard at 5941 Reed Ave. “It’s not right.”

Had no idea

She has found a sympathetic ear from Mayor Jim Wetherington and Columbus Councilor Gary Allen. But the problem is that Columbus Council, in October 2006, approved the deal that allowed the FAA to construct the tower.

Davidson had no idea the vacant lot next to her home was going to be the site for the tower until Oct. 31, 2008. Davidson saw the tower in pieces and began asking questions. She said she and her neighbors were never notified about the tower plans and had no chance to fight it. Davidson sought a temporary restraining order in November, and it has expired.

Some city officials do not dispute this.

“The city didn’t send out notices and that is what should have been done,” Wetherington said. “What we should have done, and everybody agrees on this, is notify the people out there.”

The problem started more than two years ago when the city transferred the property for the tower to the FAA. During the council meeting, it slipped through on City Manager Isaiah Hugley’s agenda with no discussion.

Councilors Allen and Glenn Davis represent the districts near the airport, where there have been issues about tree height in the landing paths. Allen said he and Davis pay special attention whenever there is any issue near the airport.

When the property came before council, it was listed as Labon Drive and not Reed Avenue.

“Call the city and ask the city where Labon Drive is and they will tell you it is there,” said Allen, who has been working to help Davidson since early November. “But go there and there is no street, no sign.”

Labon Drive actually is the name of a vacant lot owned by the city. A street was planned there decades ago when the neighborhood was developed, but it was never built.

So when the property on Labon Drive came up in the council meeting, no one asked any questions.

If he had known the property was in the middle of the Reed Avenue block, Allen said, it would have raised red flags.

“The way it came to me was it was at the end of the runway,” Allen said. “I am sensitive to the streets around that neighborhood. When it came up, 10 councilors didn’t recognize it.”

Nothing happened on the property for nearly two years after the council paved the way for the project.

There was also no rezoning required for the tower because it was being put up by the federal government, Columbus city attorney Clifton Fay said.

Seeing no other way to stop it, Davidson filed a suit for a temporary restraining order in Muscogee County Superior Court. The case was moved to Federal Court and later dismissed.

She has sought help from Wetherington and U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Sharpsburg. The FAA looked at some alternatives, but they did not work, said spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

“We looked at a number of other sites, but they were not acceptable for a variety of reasons,” Bergen said. “They would not provide the coverage necessary to provide the wind-shear data.”

Now as the fully-assembled tower is waiting to be moved to its base, Davidson is trying to sell her home.

“People see the tower, and that’s it,” she said.

Her real estate agent, Carolyn Earley, said the presence of the tower has diminished the value of the property. It’s the first thing buyers ask about when they visit the home.

“Definitely,” she said. “There is no question about it.”

Davidson started asking $129,900 for the home six months ago. She has dropped the price by $5,000 and fears the price will come down more once the tower is installed.

The tower location was approved by council before Wetherington became mayor. He said he feels for Davidson and her plight. Asked if he would want the tower next to his home, Wetherington said, “No, I probably wouldn’t.” The irony: Davidson sees the need for the tower.

“I work at Cessna and my dad and several members of my family are pilots,” she said. “I understand the need for this, but I know it doesn’t need to be in the middle of a neighborhood.”