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Considering a cell tower in Whiteside Cove

The Jackson County Planning Board has of late been engaged in a discussion about the revision of the county’s ordinance governing cell phone towers. That discussion is likely to attract additional voices soon, as the board also prepares to weigh in on Verizon Wireless’ request to construct a new tower in the Whiteside Cove area.

“Do you know what room the meeting will be held in? Last I heard was that due to the number of people likely to attend the meeting, we will not meet in the usual meeting room,” wrote Verizon attorney Chris Kinchen in an email to Jackson County Planning Director Gerald Green. 

Green has also received a slew of emails from Jackson residents. Specifically, residents of the Whiteside Cove proximity. 

They urge the planning director and members of the planning board to consider various aspects of Verizon’s request. They raise concerns about pollution to the viewshed and the amount of square footage the tower will require on the ground. They beg that the board require that the pole be camouflaged or “retire into the landscape.”

“We are thrilled to be getting more cell towers, but it seems like a no-brainer to elect to have the less intrusive tree-like towers up here rather than the big white monstrosity Verizon is proposing,” wrote Carole Stork. “Since Jackson County has the power to regulate what goes up, let’s try not to wreck the beauty we all take for granted.”

Tom Robertson also wrote in to the county. He lives a mile and a half from the site where Verizon is hoping to locate a tower and suggested a “mono-pine” construction.

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“I think Verizon ought to do the right thing,” Robertson later explained, adding that the right thing would be to attempt to hide the tower as much as possible and assure that it had as little impact as possible. 

Verizon’s proposed tower, a mono-pole, is planned at 115 feet in height. The company is snubbing the “request for a stealth design.”

“[It] would limit the number of antennas that can be mounted that are needed to handle the capacity in the area, including voice and high speed data,” Kinchen wrote Green.

Issues such as height, placement and appearance of cell phone towers are currently on the planning board’s plate. They began discussing the issue recently after tabling revisions to the county’s steep slope ordinance. 

Currently, the ordinance lays down such requirements as a 120-foot maximum. But no towers have been constructed since the current ordinance’s passage. Towers in the county, for instance, were built pre-ordinance and stretch to 180 feet.

The planning board is still early in its revision discussion for the tower ordinance. So far, it looks to be sticking with a loose 120-foot limit (unless companies can prove a need for more) and a case-by-case judgment when it comes to ridgetop placement.

The board has shown interest in the potential to camouflage a tower. And members are thinking long term, asking questions about a tower’s inevitable abandonment as technology evolves. 

The planning board, next meeting July 10, won’t be taking up Verizon’s request until August. After that the issue goes before Jackson County commissioners for an up or down vote.

Robertson has some concerns about the possibility of a tower near his property and in the viewshed of Whiteside Cove. 

“In a setting such as Whiteside Cove, in which you have a lot of public lands, you can see right down on it,” Robertson said. 

Other residents contacting the county have voiced the same concern about a tower being built in a heavily used recreation area valued for its beauty.

Catherine Cranston Whitham, another nearby neighbor to the proposed tower, requested that the county consider the “potential intrusion on the rural and ‘unspoiled’ character of the mountain landscape.”  

“This character is the very source of both conservation pride and economic value to the county due to the desirability of the mountain experience for visitors and homeowners alike,” she wrote.

During the most recent planning board meeting, members discussed how cell phone towers were undesirable but necessary for reception purposes. 

“The role of this board is challenging,” Green told the board. “You know they are ugly and hideous, but you need them.”

In Cashiers, Robertson is one of the people who would benefit from the expanded reach of a new tower. But that potential luxury doesn’t do the trick when he thinks about the view from Whiteside.

“I don’t have cell phone service at my house,” Robertson said, “and this tower would provide it, but I would just as soon not have it if it’d affect other people in the county this way.”

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