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CLAYTON • A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge Thursday asked representatives of the county and Sunset Hills to avoid a legal showdown by resolving a dispute over the location of an emergency communications tower.

Sunset Hills this month filed for an injunction to halt construction of the 190-foot tower on the site of the South County Health Center, 4580 South Lindbergh Boulevard.

The city charged the county issued itself a building permit for a structure that exceeds the municipal height ordinance by 20 feet.

Associate County Counsel Cynthia Hoemann argued in the hearing that the mandate to improve an “outdated” communications system granted the county the right to supersede Sunset Hills zoning ordinances.

Sunset Hills also contends it is cheaper to install the emergency communications equipment on an existing KTVI (Channel 2) television transmission tower located 2,500 feet from the health center property in a section of unincorporated St. Louis County.

Mayor Bill Nolan said a study by the city’s engineering department fixed the cost of installing the South County transmitters on the existing KTVI tower at $51,000.

At Thursday’s hearing City Attorney Robert Jones told the court it would cost a minimum of $185,000 to construct a new tower on the health department site.

David Barney, director of the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission, said in an interview after the hearing that the price of the tower would approach $140,000. Fencing, a generator and supplementary features will then be added to the cost.

Barney said the use of the KTVI tower was not an option, adding that the county negotiated with the owners of the site last year but couldn’t agree on terms.

Barney disputed a contention by Sunset Hills’ officials that the county would receive a $3,000 monthly rental fee if the tower is placed on the health center property.

Rent would be paid to the owner of the KTVI tower should the antennas go up at that location. But the county would not benefit financially on a monthly basis.

“We would receive no rent from going there (on the health center site),” Barney said.

Noting that “there is precious little law on this subject,” Circuit Court Judge Robert Cohen requested that the two parties meet over the next week to seek an amicable resolution to the disagreement.

Cohen set a Sept. 27 deadline for an update, Jones said.

Jones earlier informed the judge of previous attempts by the county and city to address their differences that ended in a “standstill.”

The Sunset Hills tower will join a network of 55 microwave transmission units designed to improve communications among emergency responders in St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

Voters in the three counties approved a $120 million bond issue to finance the local improvements in 2009.

Since the passage of the 2009 bond issue, some homeowners have raised questions about the impact proximity to the towers might have on property values.

Barney said further delays with the South County tower will be problematic. “If I have to go to another site, I’ll need to go to ground zero and start all over,” Barney said.

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      Steve Giegerich is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.