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Jackson passes revised cell tower ordinance

jacksonTwo years after the planning board first began reviewing the document, Jackson County has adopted a revised ordinance governing cell tower placement.

“I know exactly how (Commissioner) Boyce (Dietz) was feeling when he said, ‘I’m tired of listening to four lawyers quibbling about definitions,’” County Attorney Jay Coward told commissioners at a work session before the final vote. “I really feel like we’ve given this the best possible review we can give it.”

The ordinance is designed to make the approval process easier to understand and also to guide development so that cell coverage can continue to improve in Western North Carolina while impacting the viewshed as little as possible. The ordinance aims to achieve that by encouraging antenna from multiple companies to share the same tower and encouraging companies to use existing towers and facilities to provide service. 

The document went through a total of eight reviews before its passage, the last of which resulted in two additional changes before the vote. For one, the ordinance no longer automatically allows companies extra height in exchange for concessions such as camouflaging the tower or allowing multiple antennae to locate there. The tower height is instead capped at 100 feet with the understanding that the planning board can grant a waiver for additional height if it feels the request is justified. 

The final version also tightened up the requirements for companies to prove they’ve considered alternative sites for the tower and that the proposed site is the best one. 

“Basically, this application process is going to require the applicant to submit to the planning department to review and ultimately for you to make a decision about whether the applicant has considered other reasonable and applicable locations,” Coward told commissioners.  

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A public hearing on the ordinance in July, when commissioners were originally scheduled to vote on it, drew enthusiastic public comment from four people, with in-depth suggestions offered in writing from others who did not attend the in-person hearing. All those offering their suggestions were either lawyers, were personally involved in a past cell tower application, or both. Commissioners delayed the vote in order to more thoroughly consider the comments. 

“This final product is a really good product,” Craig Pendergrast told commissioners. Pendergrast, an Atlanta attorney who had argued against a proposed tower near the property line of his land in the Cashiers area, had commented during the formal public hearing.  

Commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance, thanking the public for their input through the process. 

“We have received tremendous guidance each time we’ve had a work session or a public hearing,” said Commissioner Mark Jones. “That’s how we get these ordinances to where they’re functional and practical.”

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