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Jackson assesses cell tower regulations

A conversation has begun in Jackson County regarding the revision of the county’s regulations pertaining to cell phone towers. 

“We’re just barely into it,” said Ed Weatherby, a member of the Jackson County Planning Board. 

The planning board picked the issue back up recently —the conversation was initiated last year — looking to switch gears after commissioners shied away from the steep slope ordinance rewrite the board had been tending to.

“It got put off, so we started on the cell tower,” explained planning board member Ron Story.

The planning board will be assessing Jackson County’s current tower ordinance and looking at tower issues such as height and placement. They will discuss the possibility of towers being built on ridgetops, and they will take a look at land disturbance and access issues. They will consider both monopole and lattice structures, as well as exploring the relationship between tower height and coverage.

The planning board initially got into this discussion last summer. Members discussed increasing the allowable height from 120 feet to 130, 150 or 160 feet. They also talked about weather or not to allow towers on ridgetops.

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Since the tower discussion was dropped, there has been some turnover on the planning board. Green described the recently revived discussions as “largely new.”

“How long it will take is anybody’s guess,” he said. 

In the meantime, telecommunication companies continue to feel out the area. Verizon recently conducted a balloon test in Cashiers — floating a large balloon at the potential tower site for a visual representation — to evaluate possibly locating a tower in the area.

“We’d like to be able to expand capacity and expand coverage to some of the more rural areas,” said Karen Schulz, a Verizon spokesperson. 

The company’s balloon test entailed floating a balloon up to the allowable tower height of 120 feet. The balloon enables people to visualize what a cell phone tower might look like.

“To the north and west is Whiteside Mountain,” explained Green. “The question is whether the tower would effect the view.”

On the day of the balloon test, Julie Mayfield, co-director environmental organization Western North Carolina Alliance, hiked Whiteside.

“You could see it really clearly from the little spur trails,” she said.

The planning board will next discuss tower regulations at 6 p.m., June 12, at the county administration building in Sylva.

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