Cashiers cell tower application pulled
A week after a contentious planning board meeting discussing the merits of a proposed new cell tower in Cashiers, the company has informed Jackson County that it will be pulling its application.
But that doesn’t mean the issue is dead. The company plans to file a new application later on, after commissioners vote on a draft ordinance that would replace current regulations on cell towers. The vote is expected later this summer.
During the planning process for the proposed tower, Charlotte-based Crown Castle said in an emailed statement, “it became apparent there are some concerns with the current ordinance and that a new ordinance under consideration may address those issues.”
Sarah Thompson, chair of the Jackson County Planning Board, said it’s likely Crown Castle favors the proposed ordinance because it more clearly spells out the processes and standards than the current one does.
“Our intent was to both make it easier to get cell coverage to the areas of the county that need it while also making it a smoother process for the companies wanting to provide that service,” Thompson said.
The new ordinance would also give the final decision-making authority on cell tower applications to a different body. Under the current ordinance, the planning board reviews applications, but it’s the county commissioners who sit as a quasi-judicial body to make the final call. Under the new ordinance, the planning board would sit as the quasi-judicial body. In a quasi-judicial hearing, witnesses are sworn in and evidence presented just like in a regular courtroom.
Commissioners have planned a public hearing on the new ordinance for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at the county administration building and will take a final vote in one of the meetings following that hearing. A public hearing tomorrow (June 25) to take input on Crown Castle’s application has been cancelled following the application withdrawal.
Cashiers currently has one cell tower, located right in the village, but the lease is set to expire in September. According to County Manager Chuck Wooten, Crown Castle has arranged with the current leaseholder to extend the contract until the forthcoming application can be discussed.
The tower as proposed in the original application, though shorter than the existing one, would improve Cashiers’ cell service over what’s there currently, a consultant hired by the county concluded. However, the application had met strong opposition from Rick Barrs, who owns property adjacent to the proposed site. The proposed tower would be just 140 feet from his property line, impeding his eventual plans to build a group of cottages there, he said. Meanwhile, property owner Mark Zachary, who has held a lease with Crown Castle for two years while they tried to decide where to locate the tower, said the site was chosen for its overall maximization of coverage and distance from existing houses in the area. Due to topography, he said, the proposed tower would have very little visual impact to Barrs’ property anyway.
The planning board had voted to recommend approving the application but recommended that Barrs and Zachary discuss changing the tower’s location. They also asked that Zachary consider a higher tower. At 120 feet, the tower would be high enough for the planned Verizon antenna to provide excellent coverage, but any other antennae on the tower would just shoot into the trees. The county’s ordinance requires that cell towers allow at least six different carriers to house antennae on them in order to minimize the need for construction — Crown Castle had requested an exemption to this requirement.
“While they were filing under the current set of rules, I think we gave them a lot to think about,” said Scott Baker, the board’s vice-chair.
A public hearing on the proposed cell tower ordinance is planned for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at the Jackson County Administration Building. A public hearing for June 25 that had been planned to discuss Crown Castle’s tower application has been cancelled, as the application was pulled.